Tag Archives: Prince William County VA

Spare No Expense & Bill the Taxpayer

Artist’s rendering of the Lynn family’s preferred reburial site.

Artist’s rendering of the Lynn family’s preferred reburial site.

Prince William County, VA recently witnessed a heartwarming episode that ended in a charming example of public – private cooperation. Not too far from where I live the county is constructing a new high school that will feature all the modern conveniences for students: Olympic–size swimming pool, state of the art football field and hot–and–cold running grief counselors.

Plus it’s also a Gun Free Zone!

Last summer during preliminary construction a ground survey team discovered what appeared to be 10 to 12 abandoned graves in an overgrown portion of the site.* And making that discovery before the bulldozers arrived wasn’t easy. The plot was located in a remote area south of Manassas and covered by a tangle of third or fourth growth woods, making it impassable for vehicles and a tough slog on foot.

The graves weren’t marked with headstones, instead there were only rough fieldstones, without any inscriptions, and rectangular sunken areas in the ground. They concluded the site was an abandoned family cemetery that had not seen a burial in over 100 years.

Once the graves were discovered the school board contacted the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to obtain permission to disinter the remains. The board also followed the letter of the law and published a required legal notice in the Washington Post.

Since the high school was budgeted to be the most expensive in county history both proponents and opponents of construction had been following progress closely. After the graves were discovered the school board took the advice of community busybodies and contacted local historians to see if they could determine who was buried in the plot.

Researchers found the land had been owned by the Lynn family from approximately 1840 until the late 1890s when it was sold. Three of the graves have been identified as John Henry Lynn and his parents, William and Codelia (Keys) Lynn.

What’s more, Lynn family descendants still living in the county were surprised and gratified when the school board notified them of the discovery. After consulting with the board, Lynn representatives agreed to have the graves moved to a nearby site that would not interfere with construction.

At the conclusion of a brief, tasteful reburial ceremony Carolyn Lynn — ironically a local genealogy buff that writes a blog on Prince William County history — said, “I’m so impressed with the respect the school board demonstrated for my ancestors and my family. We had no idea there was a cemetery on the high school site and now not only do we know where the Lynns are buried, the new site is accessible and will be maintained by the county. I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Wow, I’m going to have to take my wife’s advice and stop smoking crack. It’s interfering with writing my column.

Of course that’s not what happened. This is 2014, not 1965. When notified of the discovery the Lynn family was outraged the school board found graves they hadn’t bothered to visit for a century!

How dare they! To make up for 100 years of disinterest family did everything but wrap their arms around the bone fragments and demand the high school be canceled. And the Lynns did it without the tiniest, most infinitesimal bit of embarrassment or gratitude, which is a way of life in the 21st Century.

Maybe it’s just me but if I’d lost the location of pee–paw’s mortal remains for the last 150 years, I’d be embarrassed if the county found him abandoned in an overgrown poison ivy preserve. I’d also be hoping the county wasn’t going to stick me with the bill for digging him up. As far as I’m concerned you buy the plot you buy grandpa, too. Besides, some bureaucrat might decide great grandpappy operated a ‘shine manufacturing business and declare the grave a Superfund site.

No one escapes that clean up bill. Just ask Monsanto.

But the Lynns didn’t feel the least bit chagrined as they went on the offensive.

Carolyn Lynn, the genealogist with the missing cemetery, at first said she was “elated” about the discovery of the family plot, but now she’s described as “disappointed and angry. [She] want[s] to know why Prince William school officials didn’t do more to accommodate the cemetery or notify area residents about plans to disinter the graves, a process that began on Veterans Day. When they were interred, that was their home. They expected to be there forever,” Lynn said of the 11 to 13 Lynn family members – including four small children — believed to be buried at the site. “Nobody thought somebody would build a football stadium over them.”

Well, yes and no. I’m also sure the dear departed didn’t figure someone in the family would take the money and run when outsiders offered to buy the plot.

On the board’s behalf, it could have been they figured if the Lynns didn’t care enough to visit the site sometime during the last century — or at least send an illegal with a weed–whacker by — why should the board jump through hoops for the family?

Other long–lost relatives took an even harder line. Derek Lynn wants the entire cemetery restored and all the vegetation and brush the Lynn family ignored for 100 years removed and the grounds restored at taxpayer expense. “These [people] spent their whole lives trying to improve the county, and now they’re out there trying to dig them up. … All we want is for the grave sites to be put back the way they were and left alone,” Lynn explained.

No word on whether or not Derek wants interpreters wearing period clothing onsite to explain the cemetery’s evolution from burial site to briar patch.

The modern Lynns would have no problem with the county paying between $3 and $9 million dollars (depending on how fast the process went) to return the remains to the original burial place and move the high school, but I certainly do. I suppose I should count taxpayers lucky that the final resolution of the problem saw the bodies reinterred at a spot on the site that is not in the construction zone. The initial tab for this solution is $30,000, but that doesn’t count continuing maintenance or the costs of previously running Prince William CSI as an archeology firm was hired, DNA was scanned and relatives tracked down.

After the dust had settled leave it to PWC School Board Chairman Milt Johns to miss the point. His hand–wringing statement was, “I hope that these steps will help to heal any wounds inflicted by the unexpected discovery of the cemetery and the process that followed. We are certainly very sorry for the dismay that resulted.”

Note to Milt: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, and statements like this only serve to encourage the hypersensitive.

The people that lived on the land were named Lynn; they knew the most about the deceased and possibly helped dig the graves. But evidently they didn’t give a damn about what happened after the land sold. If they cared about the future of the cemetery they could have added a deed restriction. So why should taxpayers have to pay for the Lynn family’s shabby treatment of their own relatives? And why do weak elected officials allow themselves to be buffaloed by the ‘feelings’ crowd?

If our sensitive, modern–day Lynns have a beef with anyone, it’s the ancestors who let the burial plot become a chigger playground. My suggestion is visit their graves, assuming you know where they are, and give them a piece of your mind.

 

*Facts and quotes contained in this column come from extensive reportage in The Washington Post, InsideNOVA, Northern VA Times and the Potomac Local News, to give attribution where attribution is due.

Why ‘Government’ & ‘Creative’ Aren’t Usually Found in the Same Sentence

In a county known for cul-de-sacs, the logo is all right angles

In a county known for cul-de-sacs, the logo is all right angles

Prince William County, VA — where I live — has an official seal that’s been in use since 1854. But that seal — or logo, to use up–to–date terminology — just wasn’t happenin’ for the county staff. Staff evidently felt a balance scale held over a bunch of tobacco leaves just screams 19th century. Plus the tobacco is a big problem. Who wants a logo that can only be displayed 25 feet from a building entrance and never in a bus shelter?

So the staff hired a firm based in the People’s Republic of Maryland to design a modern logo for the county. Something the economic development staff could use in their marketing efforts. A new design in keeping with the county’s prosperity, potential for job creation and spectacular rush hour gridlock.

There were probably a few simple guidelines for the designer on what not to include. No stars and bars allowed and no cotton. If the design incorporates a Civil War reference, the symbol must be limited to either a nurse or a female impersonating a soldier, preferably unarmed, or maybe wounded and suffering from PTSD. The staff certainly wouldn’t want the public to think they’re in favor of guns or violence.

Other than that, the county has a wide range of sites and events that have shaped its history. To name just a few: two major Civil War battles, Quantico Marine Base, the largest number of foreclosed homes in VA, the only Northern Virginia county to take up an anti–illegal ordinance (some overlap in the last two), a shooting site from the Beltway Sniper rampage, John Bobbitt’s bobbed penis, a George Mason University satellite campus, innumerable cul–de–sacs that make it impossible to get there from here and jam packed I–95 (more overlap).

So what did taxpayers get for their money? A shiny dark blue square surrounded on three sides by a shiny lighter–blue square and even though the design just screams “Prince William County,” the designer still put ‘Prince William County, Virginia’ in all caps below the squares . As you can see from the accompanying photo, it’s bland, boring and bureaucratic — all the modifiers a politician wants associated with his jurisdiction. What’s more, it has no relation to the county other than the fact we paid for it.

On the other hand, my wife thought the shiny blue sheen on the logo was reminiscent of aluminum siding and harkened back to the county’s previous image of a region inhabited by trailer park rednecks.

In an online comment a gentleman named Tom Fitzpatrick explained that while his first impression of the logo was negative, “Now that I’ve had a chance to settle down, I realize I’m not really being fair. I’ve just learned that the County’s first choice was a dead on representation – 8 clowns sitting around a table deciding how much to cut taxes by raising them a little less. However, there were copyright issues with Ringling Brothers, the catered lunch was already eaten, and it was time for another international trip by the members. So, this is what they came up with, within those constraints.”

County spokesman Jason Grant defended the “design” choice, “The brand is the connotation, it’s not a literal meaning. It is a new logo. The connotation isn’t there because it’s not affiliated with anything yet. . . . Does it literally represent Prince William County? No. That’s not the type of logo we designed. It shows there’s a sense of place, there’s a cornerstone, it’s corporate, all these things that people will fill in.”

That droning you hear in the background while Grant speaks is not cicadas, it’s corporate buzzwords. Hint for government flacks: any time your explanation would not look out of place in a Dilbert speech bubble, you are losing the argument.

According to Tom Jackman in the Washington Post, Grant claimed the staff was borrowing a marketing strategy from Madison Avenue. Grant said Nike’s swoosh logo doesn’t look like a shoe or Lance Armstrong injecting dope, but over time it comes to be associated with the brand and all its products.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also one of the most consistent indications of incompetence. Besides borrowing strategy from Nike, the county is also going to have to borrow some money to make this logo penetrate the marketplace. Nike’s annual marketing budget of $2.7 billion is double PWC’s entire annual budget of $1.2 billion. By my calculations, at that rate of spending in 159 years the double boxes logo still won’t have the market identity of the current county seal.

The staff claims the logo only cost $750, while the website Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince William County asserts the logo design was part of a redesign contract that cost between $9,500 and $11,000. Either way taxpayers would have received more positive benefit if they’d just sent the money to the IRS and told them to have a party.

You could have gotten better design work and made at least one PWC family happy if the staff had solicited logos from high school or college art & design classes.

But now the bureaucracy has dug in it’s heels and it appears we may be stuck with this collection of right angles. So in the spirit of public service, I’ve come up with a few slogans to use with the logo at no cost to the county.

  • Prince William County — Where Every Square Peg Has a Square Hole
  • Prince William County — You’ll Love Having Your Company Absorbed by the Borg
  • Prince William County — Land of Boxy Houses and Boxy People
  • Prince William County — Home of the Square
  • Prince William County — Where the Cube Farm Is Our Identity
  • Prince William County — Embracing Boredom Since 2013

Misinterpreting Obama’s Tax Mandate

Obama-tax-the-richI have written before regarding Obama’s legitimate claim to a mandate for raising taxes on the “rich.” He made no secret of his plan to raise taxes during the campaign and voters — who for the most part know they won’t be paying the increased taxes — thought it was a fine idea and re–elected him.

This is a bad situation nationally, but potentially a good situation locally. That’s because locally–elected Democrats appear to be falling prey to what Alan Greenspan called “irrational exuberance.” They’re interpreting Obama’s mandate for national taxes as permission to increase local taxes, too.

Four of our local Prince William County, VA Board of Supervisors have presented budget proposals for the next fiscal year. And try as I might to avoid stereotyping these worthy public servants, dang if the Democrats don’t want to raise taxes, while the Republicans want to cut taxes.

All we need to be just like Washington is Warren Buffett, plutocrat with a guilty conscience, standing in front of the government center begging someone to raise his taxes.

Here’s where local Democrats are making their big mistake. PWC doesn’t face a “fiscal cliff” or any other kind of precipitous drop–off, because county budgets must balance every year. Spendacrats nationally — both Democrats & Republicans — have fought a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Consequently we have obese government that borrows almost 50 cents of every dollar it spends.

Voters get much more government than they pay for, hence Obama’s mandate.

Local balanced budgets serve to inhibit Democrat tax increase fever; since taxpayers must pay for all the government they receive, the same year they receive it.

Local Democrats who forget this will give Republicans and conservatives an opportunity to begin our political comeback.

I outlined Republican Chairman Corey Stewart’s budget a couple of weeks ago. In a nutshell Stewart would cut the average property tax bill by $132 next year. He saves $941,000.00 by eliminating supervisor’s ability to make charitable donations to private organizations with our tax dollars.

Stewart also ends the practice of subsidizing individual supervisor’s entertainment preferences by cutting all “arts” grants. He eliminates funding for Legal Services of Northern VA, ending the odd practice of the county funding the same group that often sues it. And he cuts money for programs Richmond orders, but doesn’t see fit to fund.

Total cuts amount to $9 million.

On the other hand, Democrat John Jenkins wants to boost county spending by $19 million and increase the average property tax bill by $408 (average assessed value is $310,000, so individual mileage will vary).

Evidently Democrat Frank Principi wants to do everything Jenkins does plus more. (It’s hard to be specific, Principi does not put particulars on his website and his office refused to answer an email query.) Principi would raise property tax bills an average of $447, so he can stimulate county spending by $44 million.

Jenkins wants to continue to play Santa Claus for charities with tax money, fund “arts” groups that can’t make it on their own, serve as free entertainment director for seniors, fund all the groups that Stewart cuts and keep neighborhood libraries open six days a week, to name but a few.

But “arts” spending is naturally not what Jenkins emphasizes. Local Democrats are not into disarmament as much as national Democrats, so he concentrates on the additional tax money that will be used to hire 25 new police officers and 25 to 30 new fire and rescue employees, because who could be against paying taxes for public safety?

I like cops and have had excellent experiences with the fire department. But that doesn’t stop me from asking if these additions are needed, which is one reason I’m no longer a Democrat. From 2010 to 2011 overall crime in the county decreased 6.7 percent and violent crime decreased 20.7 percent.

Now I certainly don’t want to penalize success, and the department is doing an excellent job, so let’s look at overall calls for service, which are often a leading indicator of future crime increases.

Well, nothing there either. Since between 2010 and 2011 the call for service total was essentially unchanged. Meanwhile, population increased by about 11,000 residents. Simply matching population growth could justify the addition of almost 12 officers.

The department added two in 2011, so one could support adding an additional 10 officers at a cost of approximately $1.2 million — not 25 at a cost of $3.1 million.

The situation with fire and rescue is similar. Calls for service increased 3 percent from 2011 to 2012, as did the population. But you don’t add fire and rescue the same way you do police officers, because for every paid fireman there are two volunteers. Since total fire and rescue is three times that of the police department, it makes more sense to add seven firemen at a cost of $770,000, instead of 25 at $2.75 million. The total for both comes to about $2 million in additional spending.

Jenkins could pay for all of these new government employees without raising taxes a penny if he simply embraced some of Stewart’s cuts. But local, like national, Democrats are not in the spending cut business. So it’s no wonder Jenkins was an integral part of the board that doubled PWC spending between 2000 and 2006.

Government grows because politicians aren’t spending their own money. The money Jenkins and Principi want to spend is free, because it’s yours. The only restraint on Democrats is the fact property taxes are paid by all property owners. There are no “one percenters” to gouge and Democrats are unable to embezzle from the future by borrowing, the way they do in Washington, DC.

And that’s the difference between the Obama mandate and local reality.

Still, it’s always so amusing when a local Democrat expresses concern about a taxpayer’s pocketbook.

During a recent board discussion of legislative priorities, Principi wanted the state to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, because he wanted to “keep more money in the pockets of our citizens.”

Evidently because if the state took the money, Principi wouldn’t be able to get at it.

Distinguishing Leadership from Politicianship

Defendants await a ruling from the Prince William Co Human Rights Commission

Defendants await a ruling from the Prince William Co Human Rights Commission

The feds aren’t alone in dealing with budgets this time of year. Although “dealing” is somewhat generous, since Uncle Sam doesn’t have to balance his. Congress and the President are content to blame unforeseen circumstances — George Bush, climate change or a spontaneous reaction to an anti–Mohammed video — for causing deficit spending, while they wait in the ‘withdrawals only’ line at the National Bank of China.

State and local governments don’t have that luxury and how your local elected officials deal with budgets can provide a useful benchmark in evaluating the performance of Republicans in Congress during discussions designed to avoid the fiscal cliff. (There is no need to evaluate Spendacrats. They will spend as much as possible and mislead gullible Republicans when it comes to budget “cuts.”)

Where I live in Virginia, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, takes an approach to cutting the budget that I wish Congressional Republicans would emulate. Stewart has actually marked individual programs for termination or severe cuts. This alone qualifies as leadership.

Lazy, gutless politicians avoid being pinned down on which programs to cut. And this failure includes both conservatives and liberals. Instead they advocate “equitable, across–the–board cuts.” This budget–cutting socialism is a gift to the lazy at the expense of the competent. In this way the Intergovernmental Steering Group for Immediate Climate Action and Icecap Outreach gets the same ten percent cut as the police department.

This is politicianship and elected “leaders” do it so they won’t be blamed for eliminating a program a handful of “community activists” support. Come election time the shameless pol can even claim he “saved the program from drastic cuts that would have imperiled its mission.”

Arlington County, VA politicians use another dodge. They direct the county executive to choose the budget cuts. When outraged poodle owners want to know why working–women–doggie–daycare was cut from the parks and recreation budget, the spineless “leader” blames a heartless, cat–owning bureaucrat.

Skeptics will say Stewart had to cut the budget because he’s running for Lt. Governor and a tax increase would make it impossible for him to win the nomination. But Stewart could just as easily call for across–the-board cuts or delegate to the county executive like Arlington Democrats. Not doing so is an important point in his favor.

Stewart wants to cut $9 million from the 2014 budget so property tax bills will remain flat. Some of his larger cuts include eliminating $3.6 million from the Health Department and $626,000 from the Juvenile Court Services Unit.

Stewart courageously advocates ending $941,000 in feel–good donations to non–profits. If he succeeds, supervisors will no longer be able to use public tax dollars to subsidize their private charitable preferences. Stewart also vetoes “arts” grant donations, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Northern Virginia Family Services and Legal Services of Northern VA.

An almost $2 million cut comes from the Transportation & Roadway Improvement Program — another public money kitty that allows individual supervisors to spend our taxes on traffic light installations and road improvements in their district.

In addition to fellow board members, Stewart is willing to take on friends of the library, seniors and the school board. He would close neighborhood libraries two days a week, make senior recreational tours self–supporting and remove four middle school police officers.

This is why leadership is hard. Decisions to cut spending are unpopular, particularly with those who were doing or receiving the spending. The vast majority of politicians in Washington just want to be loved and re–elected, without being bothered to make decisions that produce discord at town meetings. One of the few exceptions is Sen. Tom Coburn (R–OK) and you can imagine how popular he is.

If you ask me, it makes more sense to keep the libraries open and save $500,000 by abolishing the Prince William County Human Rights Commission. This pretentious engine of local moral posturing has been wasting money since 1993. Our own little Nuremburg duplicates federal and state programs, while entertaining a punishing 145 cases a year, most of which have — according to the executive director — “no probable cause.” Which is a nice way of saying the plaintiff is either lying, delusional or a board member of Mexicans Without Borders.

When asked by reporter Graelyn Brashear if the commission is effective, the director said that’s a tough question because there are no measures of success. Translated for taxpayers, it means this job is almost as good as being a diversity bureaucrat in the school system.

Budget cutting, like liberty, requires constant vigilance. According to Stewart the PWC budget more than doubled between 2000 and 2006, while during his seven years as chairman it only increased a total of 6.6 percent.

Stewart’s budget cutting won’t win him friends on the board or get him invited to speak at annual banquets put on by non–profits to flatter the politicians who distribute tax dollars. But it is leadership and it is a standard conservatives should apply to politicians at all levels.