Saturday, May 27, 2017

UPDATE: Rumors Turn Into Guilty Plea (Rumors Of Theft In Gloucester County Public School System)

 

Last May we published an update to the story below about “rumors” of theft within the Gloucester County Public School System (GCPS); in which we reported information contained in the May 17, 2017 edition of the Gloucester Mathews Gazette Journal.

According to the Gazette’s local court case information, “Larry Clark Lawson, 56, 668 Fickle Fen Road, Mathews, was indicted on two felony counts of wrongfully and fraudulently use, dispose of, conceal, or embezzle property having a value of $200 or more, belonging to Gloucester County, March23-April 19, 2017”

The property has been reported to be two welders owned by GCPS and the theft appears to have been initially covered up by Mr. Lawson’s supervisor who retired shortly after the indictments.

We have just learned from public records that Larry C. Lawson pleaded guilty to one of two counts of embezzlement on January 4, 2019. The public records indicate the next hearing is set for April 23, 2019 for Presentence Report. Once someone is convicted of a felony in Virginia, the judge will order a Presentence Report. Presentence Reports are prepared by a probation officer and include various family, background and employment information about the defendant. Sentencing should follow soon thereafter.

Unfortunately, it appears Mr. Lawson and his supervisor will continue to receive Virginia retirement pay and benefits. Shouldn’t Mr. Lawson have been fired when the thefts were discovered instead of being told to bring the property back and directed to retire? Shouldn’t he and his supervisor forfeit all pay and benefits and be forever barred from any form of government service? We think so.

We will continue to follow this story and keep you updated. As always, feel free to contact us with instances of public corruption in our local government and public-school system.

Kenny Hogge, Sr.
02/28/2019 

One year ago we published the story below about “rumors” of theft within the Gloucester County Public School System (GCPS). According to the May 17th edition of the Gloucester Mathews Gazette Journal; “Larry Clark Lawson, 56, 668 Fickle Fen Road, Mathews, was indicted on two felony counts of wrongfully and fraudulently use, dispose of, conceal, or embezzle property having a value of $200 or more, belonging to Gloucester County, March23-April 19, 2017”

In the same edition of the Gazette Journal there is an article about the retirement of Mr. Lawson’s supervisor, who according to the “rumors”, told Mr. Lawson to return the property and submit his resignation/retirement. If this part of the rumors is true, shouldn’t the supervisor be indicted also?

We will continue to follow this story and keep you updated.



Rumors Of Theft In Gloucester County Public School System
Several days ago we heard a “rumor” about a welder being stolen from the Gloucester County Public School (GCPS) Bus Garage. According to the “rumor”; someone working for our public school system stole a plasma welder from the bus garage and once the theft became known, the thief was told by administration to bring the welder back, submit their resignation and no charges would be filed. The “rumor” further alleges that the employee has enough time in local government service to retire and the “resignation” has actually turned into retirement for the thief.

That is a very ugly rumor and appears, “if” true, to be another prime example of our laws being applied selectively. If you or I walked into the bus garage and walked out with a screwdriver, law enforcement would be called; we would be arrested and prosecuted. End of Story. The same should happen to this thief if the “rumor” is true and they should forfeit their retirement benefits. Search warrants should also be executed on all of the thief’s properties to make sure they haven’t stolen other property owned by us. 

We sent an email to GCPS Superintendent, Dr. Walter Clemons, asking if he could confirm whether or not the “rumor” is true. Dr. Clemons replied, “I am unable to comment or provide information regarding employee personnel matters.  However, please know that any matter that we discover or are made aware of involving employee misconduct is investigated by our Department of Human Resources and reviewed by our school board with actions taken as deemed appropriate.  We also notify law enforcement on certain matters when necessary.” 

I guess his answer speaks for itself; they are not going to tell us anything under the cloak of employee privacy. I wonder what determines when they, “notify law enforcement on certain matters when necessary.” Do you think you or I would be investigated by human resources and our case reviewed by the school board before they notified law enforcement? I don’t think so. If this “rumor” is true and the thief remains uncharged and is not prosecuted, it will also be another clear example of how disengaged from reality and lawfulness the administrators of our public school system and our school board really are.
                                                                                                         
As bad as it sounds, this is not the ugliest “rumor” about our public school system that we have been following. In April 2014 and after considerable research that was ultimately stonewalled by the school system, we sent an email to the School Board in which we addressed a rumor spreading through the community about the theft of gate admission money at school sporting events. We also provided the findings of our research to the school board and offered suggestions to correct each identified shortcoming. It was not received well at all; imagine that.

Our public school system activity funds usually involve almost $1.5 million per year and are not monies from the school system's annual budget. Activity fund money comes from student parking fees, sporting and other event admission fees, club fees, money from fund raising, some scholarships, etc.

We will soon provide everything we know about the activity fund investigation. In the meantime, take a few minutes to share the rumor about the welding machine thief with others in our community and while you’re at it send a quick email to the school board and board of supervisors letting them know we know about the “rumor”. Here are their email addresses.

Board of Supervisors' email address: bos@gloucesterva.info 
School Board email address: SchoolBoard@gc.k12.va.us 

Click here to read more stories about our wonderful Gloucester County government, public school system and other topics: http://www.gloucestercounty-va.com

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gloucester County Administrator Changes Tone In Latest Reply To Citizen

The conversation between Gloucester County Administrator Brent Fedors and Gloucester citizen Chuck Thompson continues and it appears Mr. Fedors has lightened his tone. Below are each party’s latest replies. You be the judge.

If you have an opinion on the administrator’s proposed audio policy, let him or the Board of Supervisors hear it. For your convenience we have provided the email addresses for all of them after the replies. To read other parts of this story and more just click on this link: http://www.gloucestercounty-va.com/

County Administrator's reply:
Mr. Thompson –

While I am sensitive to your concerns, I prefer not to debate your points that seem to twist the spirit of what I was trying to say into something different.  In reading back through the email that I sent to you earlier, perhaps I should have used the word “and” instead of “nor” in the first sentence – I think it would have better communicated what I was trying to say – apologies if my poor choice of words caused any grief. 

My point was that I am not inclined to open an investigation into issues handled by law enforcement or the judicial system for the express purpose of bunking (or debunking) the draft policy (if for no other reason because of my lack of authority to do so).  Further, I did not interpret your initial emails as request to open an investigation, rather as an inquiry on draft future policy (which seemed to me to be the genesis of your concern).  My interpretation seems (to me) to be substantiated by the subject matter of your follow-up meeting request – “a meeting regarding the policy of audio recordings of the public by county employees”. 

With respect to actions of County employees…  If you feel that your personal safety or the safety of your property is in danger, I would encourage you to immediately dial 911.  If you feel that a County employee has committed a crime, I would encourage you to contact the State Police.  If you feel that a County employee has violated a policy, I would ask that you bring that to my attention so that I may deal with it as a personnel matter.

Note that there is currently no policy regulating or disallowing audio recordings by staff.  Addressing this potential gap in accountability is a primary purpose of the proposed policy. 

I understand and have noted your objection to audio recordings by staff, however if you are of a mind to provide constructive feedback on the draft policy as written I would welcome it.  The window for public input to the CA is open through this Thursday to allow time for June 6th meeting packet preparation.

With regards to your meeting request, unfortunately I cannot make the time you suggest on the 30th, however I am open all day (at this point) on the 31st.  If this date will work for you, please let me know after you confirm with Mr. Meyer and Del. Hodges and I will reserve a room.  If not, I will do my best to accommodate schedules to the best of my ability. 

As an alternate, I would suggest that a meeting may not be needed to communicate your perspective and influence the draft policy in development…  If schedules don’t seem to mesh, perhaps direct discussion or communication with your Supervisor and/or Delegate and/or voicing your opinions on the draft policy in the Citizen Comment portion of the June 6th meeting would suffice? 

…just trying to offer some options…

Brent

J. Brent Fedors
County Administrator
Gloucester County, Virginia
6467 Main Street
Gloucester, VA  23061

Mr. Thompson's reply:
Greetings Brent;

  What really concerns me looking over the policy is that there is no time frame from when an audio recording stops to when it must be submitted for archiving.  That is detrimental.  To long of a time lapse is opportunity to alter the original recording.  If an audio recording is done between a county employee and a member of the public, there needs to be a time limit for getting that recording to the county, signed in under penalty of perjury by the county employee by a top level supervisor who will be handling the recording, meta data must be noted for accuracy of the audio recording.  (All computer files have meta data).  

  All audio recorders also produce their own meta data.  If the audio recording is to be used against any member of the public, I would suggest that the county employee has only 30 minutes to get the audio onto a county storage system or the audio is considered null and void as though it was altered.  No exceptions.  That is where local history is very important and why you should have looked at the links.  You would have found that meta data was missing from county audio recordings or the meta data was altered.  No time or date stamps on anything.  This is a very serious issue.  

  Now to elaborate on the 30 minute rule.  Once a county employee has finished recording audio, then the employee is done with the present task at hand.  From the farthest remote areas of the county, it would only take a maximum of 30 minutes to get back to the county job site where the audio needs to be entered into storage.  That means the employee does not have time to tinker with the actual recording in any way shape or form.  

  I am very strong on the public being made aware of any audio and or video recordings by the county in any interactions.  Where any form of investigation or actions are taking place, I would also recommend that the public be given the chance to equally record the interaction or wave their rights to do so.  That way there are 2 records of the interaction and they can be compared should any member of the public wish to exercise those rights.  

  In the past, Animal Control always hid the audio recordings and would only present the recordings when they took people to court.  Many found out the hard way that those audio recordings were horribly altered and were not at all accurate.  But they were never told about being recorded or that recordings would be submitted as evidence in court.  Why the judges allowed them without proper investigation is yet another serious issue not at your level to answer.  

  Regarding meta data from audio recorders.  The meta data from all audio recorders are a series of numbers that are codes for time and date stamps.  You have to contact the equipment manufacturer to get the interpretation for their codes as each manufacturer uses different codes.  (I have talked to most of them which is how I know).  Altering a recording also puts a meta stamp on the recording.  So that should be quality checked to make sure you can trust your employees.  

  Preferring video recordings, those are much harder to alter and easy to spot if and when they are altered.  Meta data is straight forward and there is little room for misinterpretations on videos.  Body language speaks volumes that you can not get from an audio recording.  You can also tap in to see where your employees are and what they are doing.  If they are where they say they are supposed to be.

  I can not support audio recordings by county employees without these extra and very stringent policies being put into place as the abuse in the past makes this mandatory in my own view.  The objective is to create a trustworthy atmosphere.  Without these extra stringent policies, I have no trust in the system.  

Now regarding an investigation into past employee misconduct, yes, I and others would like to request investigations into such areas.  You have two, in my opinion, nasty criminals in your employment, that are a danger to the public, with a very long record of illegal activity that I believe can be proven.  I would like to request that John Meyer and Keith Hodges be involved and that this be voluntary and that a fair hearing be done because I will suggest you think of what the potential alternative might be if a voluntary investigation isn't done and one has already been underway but needs further review from you.  I know you are limited in scope as to what you can do, but I am requesting you do what you can do within your scope.  

  At this point, a meeting next week isn't needed unless you have more questions about any area of the above that you do not think can be answered in email.  I appreciate your considerations.

Very Truly:

Chuck Thompson

Board of Supervisors' email address: bos@gloucesterva.info 
Mr. Fedors' email address: bfedors@gloucesterva.info

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gloucester County Administrator Replies To Citizen’s Audio Recording Challenge

Gloucester County Administrator, Brent Fedors replied via email to Mr. Chuck Thompson’s challenge to his proposed audio recording policy. Mr. Thompson, several other people and I have spoken out about the unreliability and potential for misuse of audio recordings, but Mr. Fedors appears to be on a mission.

You see, over the past several months, complaints have been made by people about some county employees they had conversations with. Each basically turned into a he said, she said situation and in every instance it appears Mr. Fedors sided with the county employees. He appears to have sided with them to the point of implementing a formal audio recording policy that contains no detailed protocols and highly favors the government.

We understand about protecting the people who work for you, but at this point we believe Mr. Fedors is being unreasonable, unbalanced and will implement his proposed policy no matter what the Board of Supervisors or the People have to say about it. That is a serious problem.

It also appears Mr. Fedors did not do a cost benefit analysis on his proposal as he did not seem to know how much it will cost to store the recordings. He acknowledged there would be costs associated with storage but did not know how much storage he could pay for with your tax dollars. Many times we have seen Supervisors Meyer and Bazzani kick back funding requests because they lacked a cost benefit analysis, but not this time. Maybe they will during the next public discussion about the administrators proposed policy. One would assume storage costs for audio recordings would be pretty much the same as for video recordings; so why not go with the most balanced way of recording?  

Our insistence that tamper proof body cams are far more reliable to capture interactions between county employees and the People has been completely ignored by Mr. Fedors. He must have read the stories on the internet about government employee corruption being uncovered with body cams; why else would he resist body cams? Our Sheriff's Department is using them so why shouldn't animal control, field inspectors and other local government employees who regularly interact with the People use them?

To read our other posts about the administrator’s proposed audio recording policy click on this link: http://www.gloucestercounty-va.com/

The following is Mr. Fedors’ reply to Mr. Thompson’s challenge:
Mr. Thompson –

I read through your emails (excluding links), and would be glad to meet with you and a Supervisor, however I am not inclined to dig up the past, reopen an investigation of alleged events that occurred before my tenure, nor inject myself into court proceedings that I have no business questioning the validity of – I am focused on the future, and how to assure consistent compliance with a policy that has been vetted in the public forum.

At this time I am not inclined to disallow audio recording altogether, nor am I comfortable allowing it to continue without a clear and straightforward policy that can be applied uniformly across all situations.

I welcome any input you may have with regard to edits of the policy as presented – please send them to:  county.administrator@ gloucesterva.info.

Brent

J. Brent Fedors
County Administrator
Gloucester County, Virginia
6467 Main Street
Gloucester, VA  23061

The following is Mr. Thompson’s reply to Mr. Fedors:
Thank you Brent;

  I would like to request a meeting on Tuesday, May 30th at 1:00 PM ans request that John Meyers and further request that Keith Hodges also be present for a meeting regarding the policy of audio recordings of the public by county employees.

  I find it very disturbing that you consider hard evidence of severe misconduct by county employees to be not worth your time because something happened before your tenor.  Does this mean that the county is now hiring the most hardened ex convicts because their past does not matter?  It means the same thing.  Who cares if you hire a rapist for a woman's shelter?  We are looking toward the future and not the past?  Can you explain to me these differences?  I'm a little slow here.

  Also, if I understand you correctly, nothing that ever happened in the county before you came on board counts?  Does that mean all county debts have been wiped out?  Are taxes going down now that we do not have to pay past bills?  

  If I may, audio recordings by any county employee is not acceptable under any circumstances based on the history of extreme abuse by county employees.  Only video cams would be considered acceptable and every citizen must be made aware of such and offered an opportunity to equally record the encounter for fairness.

  I look forward to this meeting.