A College Student’s Bill of Rights

College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights. “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”

The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience.

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered, litigation Toscano believes would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed.

“With 55% of students reporting that COVID-19 has affected their ability to pay for college and schools scrambling to solidify fall semester plans, students are looking for signs of assurance their investment in higher education will remain a good one,” said Kyle Southern, Policy and Advocacy Director, Higher Education and Workforce for Young Invincibles, which backs the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights. “Institutions should listen to students’ concerns and ensure equitable experiences – particularly for first-generation, low-income, and racially and ethnically marginalized students who will be most affected far beyond the current crisis.”

The Tuition Payer Bill of Rights has six main tenets:

  • Right to advertised benefits and refunds. The right to receive the full benefits owed to students through payment of tuition, fees, room and board and to be refunded for services not rendered.
  • Right to opt out of non-essential services. The right to op-out of paying fees levied for collegiate athletics, recreation and other non-essential services.
  • Right to no-cost alternatives to textbooks. The right to be given the option of no-cost online texts and materials.
  • Right to financial transparency. The right to a clear and detailed explanation of anticipated costs and those incurred to earn a college education: of financial aid and payment obligations; and of billing and how colleges spend money.
  • Right to know the value of a degree. The right to be informed of the earnings premium that former students earn beyond the typical high school graduate before enrolling in an institution of higher education.
  • Right to speak. The right to address college governing and advisory boards in a public comment period during open board meetings before decisions are made.

Bacon’s bottom line. Some of these proposals are familiar. Partners has brilliantly repackaged them in the form of a bill of rights. What adds umph to the initiative is the new insistence upon students’ rights to refunds. If students don’t get the kind of education they contracted for, if they’re charged fees for athletic events that never happen, if they don’t get the dormitory accommodations promised, they should get some or all of their money back. Who can argue with that? Are colleges going to insist that they have the right to cheat their customers? They can’t. It would be political dynamite.

Driven by their internal constituencies, Virginia’s colleges and universities are consumed with identity politics. But that fixation will run head-long into marketplace realities. Institutions had better get their priorities straight. If they’re interested in “social justice,” they can start by ensuring that all students — especially low-income minority students — get their money’s worth for their tuition and fees.

A version of this commentary originally appeared on August 13, 2020 in the online Bacon’s Rebellion.

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The Disaster Called the Virginia Clean Economy Act

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), passed in April by the Virginia Assembly and signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam, provides both the legal framework for electric energy production in the Commonwealth for the forseeable future, and also prescribes the mandates which Dominion Energy must follow to carry out the philosophy underlying this legislation.

The VCEA is one of the first pieces of energy legislation in the US purporting to provide electricity under a mandate of “net zero” carbon dioxide “emission” by the year 2050. In other words, it is legislation crafted by ”green” activists to fulfill their belief that the release of man- made CO2 during the production of electricity should be cut to zero.

This radical philosophy, which is embodied perfectly in the “Green New Deal”, is a doctrine enthusiastically embraced by the Democrat Party and the left wing of the environmental movement.

When put into practice what kind of electric energy world would this philosophy impose on Virginia consumers? What would it cost? What would it do to the Virginia countryside? Would it be reliable? How would the State Corporation Commission (SCC) — the body which historically has been responsible for regulating Dominion’s electricity monopoly — implement the novel directives contained in the VCEA?

The answers to these questions are contained in the 71-page plan filed by Dominion Energy with the SCC in May 2020.

The answers are shocking and appalling. Never before in Virginia’s history has there been a legislative mandate of such a sweeping and extreme proportions for electrical generation.

Dominion Energy confirms that, by following the mandates of the VCEA, the results will be:

  • a massive increase in the yearly electricity bill for the average Virginia family of $500 per year – a 40% increase over levels without the VCEA;
  • a blighting of the Virginia landscape with hundreds of thousands of acres of new solar panel farms and high-tension transmission lines and towers;
  • over $30 billion in increased capital costs for electrical infrastructure, which does not even include the new engineering expense embedded in such novel distribution facilities; and
  • a mixture of electricity sources severely threatening the reliability of electricity production, especially when the sun doesn’t shine (night) and the wind doesn’t blow (often).

So radical are these mandates that, for the first time in history, the SCC has effectively been entirely stripped of its authority to regulate electricity generation in Virginia, thereby jettisoning the SCC’s historical responsibility to assure Virginians of both the lowest possible cost of electricity coupled with the highest reliability.

There are also a number of other dangerous consequences which will be levied on the average Virginia family by the VCEA:

  • The increase in average annual electricity prices extracted from Virginia electricity rate payers will amount to an additional $2,250,000,000 annually in order to finance the pipe dreams of the eco-left;
  • The construction of massive off shore wind facilities, lying 26 miles off the coast of the lower Eastern Shore will be conveniently located out of sight, and not subject to pesky local land use permitting requirements. But even if out of sight, they will still lie directly in the path of Atlantic hurricanes. Think of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy on New York City … and then imagine what would have happened to the VA off-shore wind farms. To make matters worse, the wind farms will be subject to the annual “Bermuda High”, which sits off the VA coast for weeks at a time during the summer, meaning no wind will be activating the turbine blades, and thus no electricity will be generated for the air conditioners of Virginians enduring the summer heat. Because wind energy is so unreliable, every similar wind farm in the United States requires backup generation capability powered by diesel or natural gas, an expense not even included in the Dominion plan.

Because Dominion is a regulated monopoly, every expense it incurs as a result of the VCEA will be paid for, one way or the other, by VA ratepayers, in order to assure that Dominion shareholders earn a legally required return on capital.

The VCEA requires – like the famous phrase emerging from the Viet Nam war – that the Virginia countryside must be destroyed in order to save it. The new solar fields required by the VCEA will blanket 490 square miles of Virginia farm and forest land – an area nearly half the size of of the State of Rhode Island, eight times the size of the District of Columbia, and 25% larger than all of Fairfax County.

In addition, Dominion will need to construct four massive interstate transmission lines at a cost of $8.4 billion to carry electricity from these solar fields to consumers. The County zoning authorities – and local voters – of each of each impacted County may have something to say about the placement of these transmission lines and solar fields in their back yards.

The question then becomes: All of this cost, unreliability, and environmental degradation is required exactly for ……… what ? The results can be summarized this way:

The VCEA will have absolutely zero positive impact on climate, and a devastating negative impact on the environment. Under the VCEA, Virginia will not have cleaner air, purer water, or a more beautiful countryside. Fifteen years from now, not a single Virginian will be able to see, touch, or smell any difference or improvement in the environment resulting from the VCEA. But they will be able to see a landscape ruined by solar panel eyesores and ugly transmission towers.

By embracing radical environmentalism, Virginia seems to be vying with California for the title of creator of the most destructive and unreliable energy policy, at the highest cost to its citizens, in the country.

By enacting legislation based on the deeply partisan, radical ideology of eliminating fossil fuels, and replacing them with costly, inefficient, and unreliable wind and solar energy, Virginia Democrats have bet the farm. As these cost burdens and unintended consequences become known, one can anticipate furious backtracking, finger pointing, and calls for repeal coming out of future sessions of the Virginia legislature.

There is nothing clean, green, renewable, or sustainable about the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

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The Public Option: A New Unaffordable Government-Controlled Health Insurance System

At this critical moment, Virginians – and all Americans – are depending on our health care system like never before, and they deserve access to affordable, high-quality health coverage and care. Unfortunately, some politicians are proposing a one-size-fits-all new government health insurance system called the public option that could have negative consequences for hardworking Virginians, including higher costs and less access to quality care.

In fact, a recent report by FTI Consulting and the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future examines how our current health care system would have responded if a new government-controlled health insurance system called the public option was implemented before this crisis. The report found the public option “would only exacerbate stresses on the health system. Instead of improving access to care and supporting health system capacity, the public option could instead leave many Americans worse off.”

Today, our nation’s hospitals are strained by the crisis and projected to lose $49.6 billion in revenue. FTI’s report finds that the public option could worsen the strain on our hospitals by 60% to $79.2 billion, threatening access to high-quality care for tens of millions of Americans. Specifically, the financial impact of the public option could limit hospital resources to expand intensive care units (ICUs), procure supplies, and enhance staffing. For rural hospitals, many of which already operate under razor-thin margins, the public option could increase revenue losses for hospitals by more than 40% — threatening access to affordable, high-quality care for those in rural and underserved communities.

Meanwhile, a separate report from FTI warns that the public option could push private plans out of the marketplace, driving more than 130,000 Americans off their existing health coverage within a year of its introduction and creating a “two-tier” health care system. Experts also warn that the public option’s costs would be passed to middle-class families, whether through premium increases for those who remain on employer-provided and other private coverage, or through tax increases. For example, a report by economists from the Hoover Institution finds that the public option would become the third-largest federal program, behind Medicare and Social Security, and could result in a $2,300 per year payroll tax increase on the average American worker.

As these and other negative consequences of the public option become clearer, policymakers should instead focus on building on what’s working where private coverage, Medicare, and Medicaid work together to provide access to affordable coverage and care – not starting over with a one-size-fits-all government health insurance system controlled by politicians.

  • To learn more about the public option, CLICK HERE.
  • To learn more about the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, CLICK HERE.
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Northam Finally Abandons Spending Hikes in Face of COVID


Perhaps the most important point about Governor Ralph Northam’s latest Virginia state budget proposal is what he did not recommend. He did not recommend dipping into the state’s current cash reserves to restore spending items which had been frozen. No additional taxes are proposed.

In fact, Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne told legislators in the budget briefing August 18th that no new budget bill is needed from this months’ special session at all, and the General Assembly could let the current document stand as approved in May until it comes back in January for the full 2021 regular session.

Whether Northam’s cautious, some would say conservative, approach will satisfy the General Assembly or spending advocates will be the story of the special session, at least on the financial front. The run up to the Assembly’s arrival was marked by escalating demands to address issues related to the COVID recession, and general complaints about poverty and income disparity in the Commonwealth.

“We have concentrated on building cash and limiting spending on recurring expenses. That is why I stated we do not need budget action from a financial standpoint. Let’s hope the General Assembly follows suit,” Layne wrote in reply to a question.

That is hardly guaranteed. The frozen spending amounts, more than $2.2 billion, represent some of the highest priorities of legislators (and the Governor himself.) Most cannot be addressed by using the federal funds provided to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They could be funded in part by the more than $1 billion in cash reserves, divided between the official Revenue Stabilization Fund and the more informal Revenue Reserve Fund. Northam left those alone.

Against a plan to collect and spend more than $137 billion over two years, from all sources, that is a pittance of a cash reserve. As both Governor Northam and Secretary Layne stressed in their presentations, in this current situation “cash is king” and maintaining cash is their top goal. The plan they presented Tuesday, should the revenue estimates prove accurate, would have the cash reserves total grow slightly by the time Northam leaves office.

Layne’s presentation and his commentary noted that as the economy crashed, a flood of federal spending pumped cash into family budgets and thus the state’s economy. Nationally, about $900 billion in lost personal income was replaced by more than $2 trillion in federal stimulus, a net infusion of about $1.4 trillion that sustained the economy. He also noted that wave of stimulus is history, now, and it is not clear if Congress and the White House will agree to anything further.

So, the new look at the budget, covering the period July 2020 to June 2022, takes a conservative view on revenue in the short term, cutting the forecast more than $1.3 billion in this year and next. Of all the spending he froze back in the spring, Northam recommends unfreezing about $150 million, and proposes about $25 million for the historically black universities and some “cultural” investments to promote black history.

One high priority is the unresolved question of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits. Using an executive order, President Trump has offered states a path to adding $400 per week to their underlying base benefits. But he suggested that $100 of that come from either state funds or the federal COVID funds allocated to the states. In Virginia, Layne confirmed, that will require $45 million per week and said the administration is still considering what to do.

The previous enhanced benefit of $600 expired at the end of July, a financial cliff for most of the affected families. Restoring at least two-thirds of that would go a long way to keeping rents current, reducing the arrearages on utility bills, and keeping sales tax revenues flowing.

Layne reported that state still has $1.3 billion (39%) of those federal funds not assigned to any project or category. Of the $3.3 billion sent by Congress, $200 million went straight to Fairfax County, $1.3 billion has gone to other localities in two waves, and $500 million has been spent on or allocated to lab testing, protective equipment, rental assistance, and other social spending.

The pandemic’s economic impact was focused on the final few months of Fiscal Year 2020, and the pain was blunted by the wave of federal stimulus money to businesses and individuals. Northam Administration efforts to restrain discretionary spending in those final four months saved over $500 million, which means despite a downtick in revenue, the state ended that year with cash on hand.

While the new forecast reduces projected general fund revenue by $2.5 billion over the next two years, that is compared to the 2020 budget, not to prior years. This is still a far larger budget than the state was working with just two years ago, and in fact non-general funds are expected to be higher than projected just a few months ago. It remains a $137 billion overall spending plan, compared to the original $139 billion.

Add in the federal COVID funds and overall state spending continues virtually unchanged despite the COVID recession. New planned spending is on hold, but the base budget remains. There has been a major change of focus due to COVID, but spending has not been seriously reduced.

Key Resources for Readers:

SB 5015 as introduced

Secretary Layne’s slide presentation

Planning and Budget Director Timberlake’s slide presentation

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The Gory Details of Levar Stoney’s Statue Contract

When Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney needed help taking down the city’s Confederate statues, he turned to Devon Henry, a prominent local construction contractor who had donated $4,000 to his 2016 mayoral campaign and political action committee. No local crane & rigging company in Virginia was willing to undertake the controversial project, but Henry lined up a Connecticut firm willing to do the work.

Bypassing City of Richmond procurement procedures and city administrators on the grounds that the city was facing an “emergency” in the form of civil unrest, Stoney awarded the contract directly to Henry himself. Under the $1.8 million agreement, the city reimbursed NAH $180,000 per day for equipment, crew, and consultants.

That sum struck some observers as exorbitant. Bacon’s Rebellion could not find a Virginia rigging company willing to comment upon the contract on the record, but an individual with one firm said the job would have cost no more than $10,000 a day had it been handled by a local contractor, or $20,000 a day for an out-of-state contractor who had to pay for transportation, food and lodging for its crew. He was astonished that anyone could get away with charging $180,000 per day for the job.

Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan declined to respond to Bacon’s Rebellion questions asking how Stoney selected Henry for the lucrative contract. Likewise, Henry declined to respond to questions posed by Bacon’s Rebellion.

Whether favoritism was involved or not, efforts have been made to keep Henry’s identity secret. The attorney filing the State Corporation Commission registration for NAH, LLC, the legal entity granted the contract, declined to list the name of the company’s principal or principals, as is commonly done though not required. The attorney who filed the registration declined to answer a Bacon’s Rebellion request for the principal’s name. Likewise, in responding to a Freedom of Information request filed by a Virginia state employee, the city provided a copy of the contract that included Stoney’s signature but a blank space where Henry’s would have gone. Stoney spokesman Nolan also declined to respond to a Bacon’s Rebellion request for the principal’s identity.

Bacon’s Rebellion has partnered in this investigation with a concerned citizen who filed the FOIA requests. Based on the first round of documents released by FOIA, we published, “Who Is Behind NAH, LLC?” Our collaborator, who does construction procurement for a state agency but asked to remain unnamed, filed a follow-up request. That query revealed NAH LLC’s principal’s identity to be Devon Henry, a resident of western Henrico County, president and CEO of Newport News-based Team Henry Enterprises, and a Stoney contributor.

The legality of Stoney’s order to remove the monuments has been challenged in a lawsuit filed by Monument Avenue residents living in the vicinity of the affected statues. The mayor’s actions, states the lawsuit, “exceeded his authority under the City Charter, the laws of the Commonwealth, and the emergency ordinance adopted by City Council and, therefore, was ultra vires, illegal and invalid.” The lawsuit argued that the mayor did not obtain authorization from City Council and failed to comply with the city code which requires holding a properly publicized public hearing.

Stoney’s bypassing of the city’s procurement procedures raises more questions about the legality of his action. Additionally, the revelation that he awarded a lucrative contract to a campaign contributor opens the mayor, who is running for re-election this year, to charges of cronyism.

Civil unrest

In 2018 Stoney backed the recommendations of a Monument Avenue commission to take down the Jefferson Davis statue but keep the other Civil War memorials and add signage that would explain the historical context in which they were erected. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this May, which ignited a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, changed the political calculus.

On May 31, Governor Ralph Northam issued an emergency order declaring a state of civil unrest. The order directed state and local governments “to render appropriate assistance to prepare for and respond to this situation, to alleviate any conditions resulting from the situation, and to … return impacted areas to pre-event conditions as much as possible.” The Governor also put the City of Richmond under an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.

On June 3 Stoney declared his solidarity with the BLM movement and its demands to remove the Confederate statues. “George Floyd’s death may have happened in Minnesota,” he said, “but the shock waves are bringing very valid pain to the surface in our city. Last night, Richmond told me to channel our city’s pain into reform.” He promised to introduce an ordinance to remove all Confederate monuments on city land effective July 1, the day new state legislation gave local governments the authority over the fate of monuments on their land.

The protest movement in Richmond became increasingly violent with each passing day in June, however. Militants first spray painted statues around the city with graffiti. Then, suffering few consequences from law enforcement, protesters proceeded to pull down statue of Jefferson Davis, a statue of Christopher Columbus, and a memorial to the First Virginia Infantry regiment formed before the Revolutionary War. The efforts culminated with an unsuccessful attempt to use a rope to pull down a statue of J.E.B. Stuart on Monument Avenue.

Declaring an unlawful assembly, Richmond police fired pepper spray and flash bangs to disperse the crowd. Protesters were furious, claiming there was no justification for such forceful measures. Stoney fired the police chief. The chief’s temporary successor resigned soon after, and a third chief would not be hired until June 26.

As the situation careened out of control, Stoney informed City Council on June 22 he was seeking a legal avenue to remove the statues. Marion and Greg Werkheiser, Richmond attorneys specializing in cultural heritage, provided the mayor a way to do it: Invoke the emergency powers granted to him by Governor Ralph Northam and affirmed by City Council. Interim City Attorney Haskell Brown warned that the act would run the risk of violating state law and triggering felony charges, but Stoney proclaimed that he was prepared to take the risk.

Stoney had a big problem, however. No one wanted the job. The owners of most, if not all, rigging companies in Virginia fell into a white, blue-collar, old-Virginia demographic that, to be charitable, was not sympathetic to removing the Confederate statues. As an individual with one company told Bacon’s Rebellion, tearing down the statues would ruin their reputation in the business.

That reality had come to light earlier in the month when the Northam administration looked into removing the the statue of Robert E. Lee, which stands on state-owned land. Chief of Staff Clark Mercer told the Washington Post that it was so confident in its legal case that the administration “tried to take down the statue quietly. But the administration could find no takers. “It was pretty disappointing,” Mercer said. “We got a lot of colorful comments.” At one company, he added, the younger generation was willing but the older owners threatened to disown them if they went ahead.

By July 1, Stoney had signed the deal with NAH to remove the statues, and his allies on City Council sought the Council’s formal backing. Declaring that the presence of the statues “creates a public safety concern,” Resolution 2020-R041 would authorize Stoney, in his capacity as Director of Emergency Management, to order “the temporary removal and storage of certain statues in the City of Richmond.” City Council approval was not forthcoming, however. Council kicked the decision over to the finance committee.

Unwilling to wait, Stoney gave the co-ahead to NAH on his own authority.

The contract

The first inkling in the public record that Stoney was planning something  occurred June 22, when Diana Lyn C. MGraw, an attorney in the Tysons office of the Fox Rothschild law firm, filed the organization papers for NAH, LLC. The filing declined to list the identity of the principal or principals of the firm. Documentation of Henry’s role would not surface until a month later with the filing of a vendor registration form.

The same day that NAH was filing its SCC registration, Stoney told City Council he was seeking a legal avenue to remove the statues. That was the day that interim City Attorney Brown warned that such an action would run the risk of violating state law, which could result in felony charges.

“I’m willing to take that risk,” Stoney said. “If I had Superman strength and could go and arrive at Monument Avenue and remove them myself and get slapped with a class 6 felony, I would have done that yesterday.”

document dated July 1 laid out NAH’s plan for relocating up to 11 sculptures and cannons owned by the City of Richmond. The proposal noted that the sculptures were to be removed from the base, and for the stone or concrete plinths to remain in place. The sculptures were to be delivered to a location selected by the city. “NAH LLC ,” said the proposal, “has assembled a world-class team of riggers, operators, fabricators, and artists who specialize in the preservation, handling and replacement of one-of-a-kind art pieces to assist in the completion of the project.”

NAH would “mobilize the necessary men and equipment to the City of Richmond” for the price of $900,000. The proposal anticipated that the actual work would take five days and another $900,000. Regardless of how many days it actually took, the city would pay a total of $1.8 million for service rendered.

The contract proposal did not appear out of the blue. Stoney spokesman Nolan indicated in his response to our FOIA request that there had been extensive communications between Stoney and “a representative of NAH LLC” regarding the statues — 75 records in all. However, the records were being withheld as the mayor’s “working papers and correspondence.”

Two documents confirm the identify of Devon Henry as the “representative of NAH LLC” whom Nolan was referring to. One document was a July 10, 2020, vendor registration form listing Henry as the Managing Member of NAH LLC. The second is a requisition form dated July 13, 2020 (shown below).

The job

Henry’s professional background is construction contracting. One of the fields of expertise highlighted on the Team Henry Enterprises website is “construction management.”

As we reconstruct his activities from evidence contained in the public record, Henry engaged Diana McGraw, a Northern Virginia attorney, to register NAH. It is possible that they had a pre-existing business relationship. Her law firm biography lists the following areas of expertise: managing small business/minority enterprise subcontracting plans and “drafting joint venture and teaming agreements.”

To handle the heavy work of removing and transporting the statues, Henry sub-contracted Smedley Crane and Rigging, a family-owned company based in Banford, Conn. The company dispatched a crew, a work truck, a larger flat-bed truck, and a crane — possibly two, one orange and one blue, judging by photographs taken of the statue dismantlings. The company declined to respond to a Bacon’s Rebellion request for information about its involvement in the project.

NAH also hired Paul DiPasquale, a Richmond sculptor best known as creator of the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue and of the 34-foot-tall King Neptune statue in Virginia Beach. DiPasquale and welder/collaborator Jillian Holland were tasked, according to a news report, “with assisting the city and a local minority-owned contractor with removing all of the remaining Confederate statues.” It is not clear from press accounts exactly what they did, but they were on the scene.

Although large crowds and the media watched the dismantling of the statues, the jobs proceeded without incident. The structural integrity of the statues was preserved. The statues were transported to the city waste-treatment facility for storage.

Listing Mayor Stoney as the primary point of contact, NAH submitted its first invoice July 3 for work performed, and a second invoice July 10.

Who is Devon Henry?

Although Henry declined a Bacon’s Rebellion request for an interview, a fair amount of information about him is available on the Internet. He is active civically and a rising figure in the black business community. He is involved on the periphery of politics as a donor, though I could uncover no evidence that he is a partisan activist.

A native of Newport News, Henry graduated from Norfolk State University in 1999. According to his LinkedIn account, he worked five years as a project manager and then sales engineer for GE Infrastructure, and he attended a series of executive management programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Tuck School of Business and Northwestern University.

In 2006, Henry acquired the Silty Lady, a firm that specialized in erosion and sediment control, to form Team Henry Enterprises. As a small, minority-owned enterprise, Team Henry built an impressive roster of federal government clients, including the Department of the Army, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Marine Corps, FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior. Private sector clients include Elizabeth River Crossing and Bon Secours.

The company has garnered numerous awards and recognitions, including two by the Initiative for Competitive Inner City as one of the top 100 fastest-growing inner-city firms in the country.

Although Team Henry maintains its headquarters in Newport News, Henry lives in western Henrico County, where the company has a field office.

Henry is actively engaged in the community. He serves on the board of visitors of his alma mater, Norfolk State. He is also has a leadership position with his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, a African-American Greek organization. Phi Beta Sigma engages in business networking, generational wealth building, and community engagement. He is president of the PBS East Foundation, founded in 2018. On his Facebook page, Henry describes his participation in a Phi Beta Sigma trip to Ghana where he toured slave-trading castles, visited with a fraternal school, gave away school supplies, and met with government officials and chiefs to discuss “how Sigma can make a difference.”

He also serves on the board of Venture Richmond, an organization dedicated to advancing downtown Richmond through economic development, marketing, promotion, advocacy and events. As mayor, Stoney is president of the organization.

Phi Beta Sigma is another possible point of contact between Stoney and Henry. The fraternity has a chapter on the James Madison University campus, Stoney’s alma mater, although I could not confirm from online research whether he belonged to it. An internet search did reveal this photo, posted on the fraternity website, of Stoney posing with a Phi Beta Sigma brother at George Washington Carver Elementary School. If Stoney has been involved with the organization, this is the only evidence of it that I could find.

What is certain is that Henry has helped advance Stoney’s political ambitions. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, he has made $10,650 in Virginia political contributions over the years, including $2,000 to Stoney’s 2016 election campaign and $2,000 to his One Richmond political action committee.

There is no record yet of Henry donating to Stoney’s re-election campaign this year.

Justification

Other than pointing to Governor Northam’s executive order declaring a state of emergency, Stoney has offered no justification for ignoring the City of Richmond’s procurement policies. Under normal circumstances, the city must acquire services through competitive, sealed bids. However , the city code states (my bold):

In an emergency the Director [of Procurement Services] may authorize or order the expenditure of funds for emergency purchases of supplies, materials, equipment and contractual services for the using agencies without competitive sealed bidding or competitive negotiation; however, such procurement shall be made with such competition as is practicable under the circumstances. A written determination of the basis for the emergency shall be included in the contract file. 

The city code does allow “emergency purchases” when “a dangerous condition has developed” and action is deemed “essential to protect and preserve the interests of the City and its inhabitants,” a condition that most some would contend existed July 1 when Stoney signed the contract. However, there was no document detailing “the basis for the emergency” included among the documents we received in response to our FOIA request.

The city code is clear about one other point: “No official, elected or appointed or any employee shall purchase or contract for any good, services, insurance or construction … other than by and through the Director.”

Mayor Stoney is not director of procurement. That office is held by Betty Burrell, a senior government official who previously served as the city’s deputy director of finance. She also has held senior executive positions in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Albemarle County. Burrell’s name appears on the requisition form displayed above, which pointedly stated that “This is a confirmation of Mayor Stoney’s order” and that the DPW (Department of Public Works) was issuing the requisition “as a clerical and ministerial action only.” These notes in the requisition order suggest that city administrators were fully aware that Stoney was enlisting the services of NAH LLC outside the normal procurement procedures. The transaction was recorded for accounting purposes only.

In July and August, the City of Richmond has issued two other emergency awards: one to the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce for “materials and professional services for critical information and PPE resources to small businesses … in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and one to Pure Consultants, LLC, of Midlothian for “facility disinfecting.” Unlike the NAH LLC document, both were co-signed by Burrell and a contract specialist.

Was $1.8 million an exorbitant sum to take down the statues? Given the fact that no Virginia rigging contractor was willing to perform the job, it was not unreasonable to look outside the state, nor was it unreasonable to cover additional transportation, board and lodging expenses that the firm would incur. However, it is a legitimate question whether $180,000 was excessive, as at least one local rigger thinks it was.

In yet another potential irregularity, Stoney signed the contract July 1. In the contract, NAH stated that it anticipated that mobilization of the work crew would “begin on or about June 26, 2020 and be complete on or about June 27, 2020.” The contract called for keeping the necessary manpower and equipment “on standby in, or very near, the City of Richmond, ready to work at the direction of the City.” Given the fact that work on the statues began July 2, as called for in the contract, one might inquire if Stoney gave the OK to mobilize the work crew several days before signing the contract.

In sum, Stoney’s signing of the contract raises at least four issues:

  • He acted entirely on his own rather than going through the director of procurement.
  • He failed to submit a written determination of the basis of the emergency for inclusion in the contract file. (If he did write such a document, the mayor’s office did not release it under our FOIA request.)
  • He provided a $1.8 million no-bid contract to a contractor who happened to be a campaign donor and political supporter.
  • He may have authorized NAH to mobilize the rigging team several days before he actually signed the contract.

The issues here are not about the rightness of wrongness of taking down Richmond’s Confederate statues. They’re about following the law in order to do so. At the very least Stoney’s actions appear highly irregular.

Thanks to Carol J. Bova for researching City of Richmond procurement policies.

The Richmond Times Dispatch did a story on this today and the Stoney Administration responded.  So Jim has asked that we include the following at the bottom of his piece:

Addendum:  The Stoney administration answered questions raised in this post posed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a subsequent news story.  You can read Bacon’s follow-up blog post here.  In addition, Mr. Bacon has further written a story indicating Mayor Stoney violated state procurement provisions as well.  You can find that story here.

This commentary was originally published on August 17, 2020  in the online Bacon’s Rebellion.

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