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Paroled Felon Helped Police, Fire Unions Collect Signatures

by ARLnow.com | July 29, 2010 at 8:14 am | 3,910 views | 120 Comments

On April 27, Cheryl Simmons walked out of the Arlington County Detention Facility, having served 23 days in jail for a probation violation. About a month later, while still on parole, she became one of the top signature collectors for the Committee for a Better Arlington, the group formed by the police and fire unions to get a proposed change to Arlington’s form of government on the November ballot.

Simmons, who was hired by a contractor that specializes in collecting petition signatures, should have been well-known to local law enforcement, had they seen her collecting signatures on their behalf.

In 2006, Simmons was arrested for shoplifting and giving her family unauthorized discounts at the Arlington Hecht’s department store, where she worked, according to Arlington Police spokesperson Crystal Nosal. Court records show she plead guilty to felony embezzlement — a more serious charge since it was her third offense — and was sentenced to three years probation.

Late last year she was in trouble again, for passing a bad check at a check cashing store on Columbia Pike, police said. She served jail time between January and February for the charge, and in April for the probation violation, according to the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.

Despite the rap sheet, Simmons was able to get hired by the contractor a month after her release, and apparently found the motivation to collect the third-highest number of signatures for the petition effort, with 2,916.

“That would be a shock to me,” said police union president Ken Dennis, upon learning of Simmons’ criminal background last night. “We just hired a company that had good references… I’m disappointed that they had this person on their staff.”

Dennis said he had never met Simmons nor heard her name mentioned.

Late Wednesday, after a “concerned citizen” brought the felony charge to the attention of election officials, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg disqualified the 2,214 otherwise valid signatures submitted by Simmons, according to a person familiar with the situation. Only registered Arlington voters (correction: only individuals eligible to register to vote) are permitted to collect signatures for initiatives in the county, and as a felon Simmons would have been ineligible to vote.

Earlier this week, the anti-petition Coalition for Arlington Good Government alleged that Simmons may not have collected the now-disqualified signatures herself. Instead, CAGG said, the Arlington resident and another top signature collector, Natasha Robinson, may have signed off on petition sheets collected by out-of-town signature collectors brought in by the contractor. So far, there has only been circumstantial evidence to support the claim.

Little is known about Robinson, who collected 3,517 signatures for the petition. The address she listed on petition forms traces back to Samaritan Ministry, a non-profit on Columbia Pike “dedicated to helping people who are homeless or in need of help themselves.”

With the 2,214 signatures disqualified, the number of signatures validated by county election personnel now stands at 10,818, well short of the 14,350 mark required to get the change-of-government proposal on the November ballot.

“I think this was a great learning experience for the next time,” Dennis said of the petition process. ”We saw this as an opportunity to let citizens have a choice in how their government is run. If we or someone else were to do this again, we certainly have a good idea of what it would take to suceed.

“If anything, maybe people will be a little more aware of how things happen around Arlington,” Dennis said. “Even in our failure, we succeeded.”

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  • http://blacknell.net MB

    Well done, CBA, *well done*.

    • More Accolades

      Well done, firefighter and police unions! Well done, Arlington Greens and Republicans!

  • Silence Is Golden

    No wonder CBA’s refusing to comment on the CAGG press release except to tell the Sun Gazette that CBA “doesn’t have enough people to police” the outside firms they hired.

  • bob

    Idiots.

    Although I am glad I refrained from yelling at the signature people. They were pestering everyone. I wanted to tell those lazy cops to f*** off, so I’m glad to know they were hiring street people instead of getting their lazy asses to work.

  • Um, Ken?

    How could this process have made people in Arlington more aware of “how things happen” when none of the signature collectors even knew how many board members we have?

    • Eric

      It certainly opened my eyes to “how things happen” in the police and fire unions. Perhaps the changes we really need are new union leaders! Geesh.

  • Robert

    Republicans will always stoop to new lows, especially when they could have easily done things legally, yet they choose to be low-life scumbags to the core.

    If Arlingtonians want change, they’ll make change. If Arlingtonians don’t want change, then change won’t happen.

    Keep things status quo in Arlington. Arlington is an attractive place to live. Let’s keep it that way.

  • Hey “Kenny Boy”

    If hiring union busting out-of-state firms that employ convicted felons and falling short of your signature goal by more than 25% constitutes success, the police union has even bigger issues than we thought.

  • Teresa

    I’m pretty sure this is all poorly sourced and nothing more than circumstantial smear designed to intimidate political opponents. Cheryl Simmons sounds like a very industrious woman to me! :)

  • Mary Ann

    Let’s get real here, this woman is not the problem. It’s the people that hired her w/o a background check and the unions who mismanaged the union-busting consulting firm that are the real problem. The firefighters and police unions have no shame. I’m embarrassed for them. It’s too bad they lack any ability to reflect on how truly misguided this waste-of-money petition effort was. I’m disgusted. You can bet that I won’t be donating to any police and firefighter causes. I’ll save my charitable contributions for organizations that can responsibly manage money.

    • Thes

      Mary Ann, I would suggest you continue to donate to our police and firefighters, who work very hard to keep our neighborhood safe. Much better than withholding your donations would be to reach out and ask them if they support what their union leaders are doing (my guess is they have no idea what was continues to happen in their name).

    • John Antonelli

      Mary Anne, you are exactly correct. If anything why do we need 14K signatures to petition our government. That is the problem not CBA

      • Master of Deflection!

        Nice effort, John!

      • Captain Obvious

        You need signatures so that you can prove your cause is relevant to the whole county and not just a one-man vendetta. Oh, wait….

      • Are you serious?

        John, you are free to petition your government any time you have a grievance. As you well know, the County Board holds regular meetings with public speaking periods, and there are elections held every year if you are so moved to run or support another candidate. Don’t complain that you have no voice just because the vast majority of the county does not agree with your views.

        Virginia has set a modestly high bar to put a question onto the ballot that would change the entire form of government. The right to chose a form of government is a fundamental right, with real consequences for every citizen, and only the foolish or the reckless would undertake lightly – with no effort to establish a community dialogue or publicly redress grievances beforehand – an effort to change the form of government. Especially when that government is broadly supported by a large majority of citizens (look at recent election returns and citizen satisfaction surveys to see how residents feel about Arlington’s government). Our Founding Fathers understood the gravity of decisions to change forms of government when they set forth the words below in the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. You can be sure they didn’t set out to change their form of government just because they wanted “better communication” – whatever that really means.

        “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…(“better communication” is pretty light and dissatisfaction with the old county manager sure seems like a transient cause – especially since he is no longer there)”

        Indeed John, it is your right to petition your government and to advocate to abolish our current structure of government and institute another. But when your side loses, and loses badly, and betrays the public trust in the process through its disregard for the rule of law, don’t turn around and say that the bar was too high or the hill was too steep.

        • 22202

          FTW!

          I *love* Arlington.

        • Matt W.

          Seriously,
          The heads of county departments are prohibited from discussing public business with the elected officials of the county at a public comment period or otherwise. Why are we excluding the professional opinion of county employees when they are the best able to articulate the needs of the community and how to best address them with actions on the county level. That fact won’t change now that CBA didn’t get on the ballot, but it will continue to be a source of political capital for challengers.

  • TGEoA

    Well, at least we know she is an Arlington resident after all. What’s the big deal? She’s not allowed to earn a living?

    • TGEoA

      Ah, my bad. I didn’t realize she wasn’t registered.

      • Um

        She can’t be registered. She’s a CONVICTED FELON.

      • Troubled times

        TGEoA,

        Felons can’t register to vote and are thus ineligible under VA law to collect signatures for a petition like this. Unfortunately, there is more. She had to sign 123 pages under oath (or someone forged her signature) claiming that she was in fact eligible to vote and that she in fact witnessed the collection of all those 2900 signatures. If she in fact signed those papers and swore falsely under penalties of perjury, then she may have committed another crime and parole violation.

        But the issue is obviously bigger than poor Cheryl. Her statements then had to be collected by someone else in CBA and notarized. At some point someone else either knew, or should have known, that the statements were false. Cheryl is apparently no saint, but she’s not the real issue here. Who knew and when did they know it? Would Messrs. Dennis or Staples care to comment?

        I’ll just say this: If the police and fire union leaders think that aiding and abetting criminal activity is “success,” I hope they look good in stripes. Because they won’t be wearing the blue and red much longer.

        • Sleuthing

          Dena Kozanas, the campaign manager for CBA, notarized Cheryl Simmons’ petitions.

          • Sleuthing

            More fun: The page that was disqualified because Dena Kozanas notarized it a week before the signatures were actually collected was a page signed by Cheryl Simmons.

        • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

          Agreed that this is not about Ms. Simmons personally. We’re only interested in her background given her involvement in the petition effort. Just wanted to make that clear.

  • Robert

    She has to be a REPUBLICAN!

    • Matt

      Oh yeah Sherlock… she HAS to be… might as well crucify her and anyone else who isn’t a perfect glass house living Democrat. Get off your high horse you snob.

  • I wonder….

    If she did, indeed, perjure herself in her affidavit, would that be a violation of her parole?

  • I wonder….

    I mean, probation, not parole.

  • Thes

    Ok, did ANYONE see her collecting any of her 2200 signatures? Is there any evidence that she actually collected signatures? Or did she just sign the forms?

    • Eric

      And if it is the latter, who put her up to it?

      • Sleuthing

        Please note that Dena Kozanas, the campaign manager for CBA, is the one who notarized Cheryl Simmons’ petitions.

  • charlie

    I think it is becoming clear why the unions can’t negotiate a “fair” contract with the County Manager.

    • Matt

      They dont have “contracts”. VA is a right to work state.

      • charlie

        yes, Virginia is a right to work state and I’m proud of it.
        BUT the whole basis of this Unions action on this is that they didn’t feel they could negotiate a contract with the Manager — their boss — and wanted to deal directly with the Board.
        But this whole thing has made it clear that they can’t negotiate or plan their way out of a paper bag.

        • Thes

          Just to be clear, the UNIONS always could, can, did and still do meet with the County Board all they want to negotiate whatever they please. The unions claimed that wasn’t enough for them — that the police and fire chiefs *themselves* had to be able to present individual budgets (competing with the County Manager’s) to the County Board or else the County Board “wouldn’t be aware” of what the unions have already been telling them. It was for this infinitesimal negotiation advantage that they felt they needed to hire out-of-town thugs to overthrow Arlington’s government.

  • James

    Oh, the tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

  • Robert

    Dena Kozanas is also a REPUBLICAN who has no moral values when it comes to politics. Kozanas is well-known in both Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County as being a political Republican opportunist, while at the same time, her wayward spirit has raised people’s political antennas due to the fact that her ADHD style of volunteerism has GOPers on edge. When it comes to crooked Republican politics, no one should have been surprised that Dena Kozanas was involved.

  • Poor Cheryl

    I feel sorry for Cheryl. She’s the little fish in the corrupt big pond of union leaders and Dena Kozanas. It would be a shame if the real leaders got off scott free. What does Dena have to say about this? She was supposed to be the campaign manager and she also lied under oath. What’s the penalty for her?

  • ArlingtonAaron

    I wonder if prosecutors would consider cutting a deal with this person in order to secure testimony about those who knowingly violated election laws in her company and perhaps even the COG crowd?

  • Sleuthing

    Scott, here’s your next job: Contact each person who signed a petition sheet that Cheryl swore under oath she collected, show those people her picture, and ask them if that’s what the person who collected their signature looked like.

    • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

      I don’t feel the need for more piling on here, but if someone else wants to do more investigating, go right ahead.

      • Eric

        A call to Dena might be very interesting if you were inclined to go beyond the Simmons story.

        • Thunderful

          Cheryl is not the lead story. It’s the leadership I want to know about. Dena, union chiefs, out of state consultants. How do we learn about that? Arlnow, help us!

      • Seriously.

        Scott, you are the best reporter in Arlington. But how can it be piling on if there’s more genuine substance to the story?

        Stuff like this rarely happens in Arlington. Who introduced it? No way Simmons is the person in charge. Dena Konazes is. Did she disappear? Has anyone tried to find her?

        • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

          We’ve been in touch, but Dena has been unwilling to go on the record.

          • Seriously.

            Thank you for that information. I don’t really understand if staying “off the record” gets you “off the hook” as well, but I just wish there were some accountability at the management level. I’m offended that this is happening in my community, but I don’t know where my anger should be directed.

            Public opinion is obviously against the leaders of the unions and their campaign manager, but rumors and innuendo can be harmful without facts; without answers, memories fade.

            I’m not a journalist nor an investigator. But just as innocent people should not smeared recklessly, neither should guilty parties to go free because we have one lower-level fall guy (or person.) I’ll keep reading and hoping the truth comes to light.

            Thanks again for all your reporting. I know you are working hard.

        • Greg

          I wouldn’t say “no way” that Simmons isn’t responsible for the multiple sheets. I’ve seen this before where petition gatherers give sheets to friends to complete. Possibly paying them for each sheet they complete. It could have been something as simple as that.

          But who knows….

          • Seriously.

            Greg, normally I’d agree with you that it’s possible. But the Registrar disqualified a page because campaign manager Dena K notarized it before the signatures were gathered/dated.

            http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/voterregistration/ElectionInformation/ReferendumPetition2010/p315.pdf

            Cheryl Simmons is not the expert on Notary law in this scenario. Dena K is.

          • Greg

            @Seriously – I’m not sure what that means. Did she write the wrong date? Maybe. Did she notarize a bunch of blank pages and hand them out to be filled in? That seems unlikely given that the problem only appears on a single sheet. Why pre-notarize just one sheet then?

            Was there something else nefarious behind that sheet? Could be.

            I’m not a supporter of (what used to be) the Petition, but I think it’s a stretch to say that single sheet means something significant without more information.

      • Thes

        Has anyone considered contacting some of the 2,214 voters who signed about a) whether they recognize her as the man, er, woman who gave them the clipboard, or b) how they feel about their signature having been thrown out because of her?

  • Let’s Be Free

    Tim Kaine promised to restore the voting rights of non-violent felons in time to vote for Barack Obama. How do we know that Ms. Simmons voting rights weren’t restored?

    • Sleuthing

      I’m pretty sure you can’t petition to have them restored while still on probation for the offense.

    • Sleuthing

      Yep, have to have been free of your sentence for 2 years: http://www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/judicialsystem/clemency/restoration.cfm

      Simmons’ three-year probation was revoked earlier this year, before it expired, so no way she’s even close to qualifying.

      • Let’s Be Free

        Right, thanks, those are the new McDonnell restoration standards.

        I wonder if anyone has the process laid out as it was applied towards the end of the Kaine administration, I doubt it. I recall hubbub leading up to the election about Kaine saying he would restore voting rights to all non-violent offenders who had “served their time” (which is subject to a number of interpretations).

        Basically, I think anyone who isn’t incarcerated ought to be allowed to vote, period. Ex-cons are citizens too — and lodging a vote is a responsible exercise. As with most things in life showing up is half the battle.

    • Teresa

      I don’t think so – at least not according to this press release: Governor Kaine chooses not to restore the right to vote in Virginia http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_after_criminal_conviction_in_virginia/.

      Do you have anything to show to the contrary – that Kaine promised to restore voting rights to non-violent felons (forget the part about “in time to vote for Barack Obama” – that’s just sour grapes)?

    • I love it!

      That’s the best you can do, huh, LBF?

      • Let’s Be Free

        Lli, it’s not the best that I can do, but you seem to believe that I’m trying to win as opposed to elucidate and get down to the facts — posters here are Sherroding Ms. Simmons.

        T, as for Kaine’s efforts to restore voting rights in connection Obama’s election campaign (Kaine was Obama’s national co-chair) this WAPO article did a good job of linking Kaine’s felony restoration initiative with the presidential election and the groups that supported Obama and registered voters on Obama’s behalf.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/16/AR2008061602535.html

        Eric, it is not at all clear that any crimes have been committed. There has to be intent — it’s more than a little bit conceivable that Ms. Simmons didn’t know she was ineligible to be a registered voter, just as its conceivable that Paul Ferguson didn’t know he was releasing undredacted social security numbers. Thank God we live in a society where every time someone violates a stupid rule (like freed felons cannot vote or only registration eligibles can canvass) or even a more important rule (like protecting against identity theft) we don’t lock them up.

        • Thes

          LBF, what does someone have to do to lose your benefit of the doubt? Apparently multiple fraud convictions don’t do the trick for you.

          At least we know now that the entire petition effort had little to do with a grassroots angst about Arlington’s current form of government. Now we know that this was a bought-and-paid-for effort of hiring people (including felons) first to lie to the voters about what the change would mean, and then lie to the government about who collected the signatures. Now we know that the managers of the police and firefighters union didn’t even have enough support from their own people to “police” much less man and operate this out-of-state-plus-local-felons effort.

          And apparently, Ken Dennis is ready to do it all over again, except maybe this time without the felons. Is that good for Arlington? Is it good for the police and firefighters?

        • Teresa

          o.k. LBF – I understand that you’re desperate to save face. The article also mentions that non-violent felons would be eligible to vote for John McCain. Again, sour grapes. It’s the REPUBLICANS who were saying it was to help Obama. Either way – it didn’t happen, did it?

          • Let’s Be Free

            Thes, if using employee discounts to buy things for relatives gets you felony convictions in Arlington then virtually everyone I know who has ever worked in a department store is a felon. From my own experience, I lost my credit card once and reported it lost. Fellow picked it up, used my no longer active credit card in an effort to charge $25.00 of beer and stir fry at the Ginger Beef restaurant down Columbia Pike at Four Mile Run — this petty criminal was charged with two felonies. In Arlington it’s not hard to get the police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney into a hanging mood. As for the benefit of the doubt, in most jurisdictions in these United States criminal defendants always have the benefit of the doubt, but apparently not before the political class in Arlington County.

            And T, it wasn’t only Republicans cited in the Post article, for example:
            “[S]ome Obama workers are providing information to felons about how they can get their rights restored. ‘If you are in areas where there are large numbers of unregistered voters, one of the reasons you see that is they are ineligible because of felony convictions,’ said Kristin Szakos, co-chairman of Charlottesville Area Obama Volunteers, adding that canvassers carry ‘restoration of rights’ forms.”
            I would love to see all felons granted voting privileges post incarceration.

          • Perspective

            I agree with you that felons who have served their time should have the right to regain enfranchisement. Many people in Arlington have advocated for this issue, to more than one Governor.

            But that’s not the law. And in this case, the law is helpfully printed right there on the petition page where you fill in the blanks and sign your name. And this is the reason you should fill out your own darn petitions yourself, before you sign your own name to a document, so you know if what you’re doing is lawful.

            I never thought I’d see someone attack the prosecution of theft for personal gain as a matter of politics. This isn’t a speeding ticket, and Arlington may be the least corrupt jurisdiction I’ve ever lived or worked in. Surely you have enough rational perspective to realize that.

            I hope Ms. Simmons cooperates with authorities, tells what she knows, and isn’t the only person held accountable, if she was not the only person involved. Whether it’s the out-of-state contractors, people running CBA or whoever, I don’t want anyone trying to defraud *our* rights to defend our government, or to change it.

            And every Democrat and Republican, fire fighter and police officer, every local government supporter and skeptic, should want nothing less.

  • Clarendude

    I’d like to see the Unions do something to help more police and firefighters live in Arlington County. If they are residents, not only is that a better situation for them knowing the place they work, but they would be completely entitled to lobby their board members for whatever issue they want.

    • 22202

      One of the CAGG arguments against the petition was that it would eliminate existing programs for Arlington employees to get affordable housing grants and loans. (They had a write-up on their website about it.)

  • Civic Activist

    Anyone can show up at a board meeting and speak. You don’t have to live in Arlington. I saw several firefighters speak during the Cherrydale fire station situation. There’s always time during public comment for anyone to talk.

  • Deb

    This looks like the woman who stopped me in Ballston Commons Mall and asked me to sigh the petition. She said it was her first day on the job — was obviously reciting a script, except she got her facts wrong. I stopped her mid-sentence and told her I already knew about the issue and did not want to sign the petition.

    • Thes

      How many different clipboards did she have in her hands?

  • Chris

    It’s beside the point, but why do I have the sneaking suspicion that if this were a Democratic Party ballot initiative we’d be hearing about how the signatures should be counted as to not disenfranchise all of the voters that had their signatures tossed?

    • Another civic activist

      Chris,
      There’s not even a logical argument here for any “disenfranchisement” given that they didn’t get enough valid legal signatures (even counting Simmons’ 2200). So your point is beside the point.

      But just for the record if this were a Democratic Party ballot initiative, there would have been hundreds of actual, local, grassroots volunteers on the ground in neighborhoods properly collecting signatures. And then enough signatures would have been turned to ensure success with a comfortable margin of error. And, most importantly, there would have been ample community conversation and debate before any signature collection ever took place so that the public would know the ramifications of the change and why, in all aspects, it was good for Arlington.

      Allegations of fraud, out-of-state petition gatherers, felons, questionable notary practices, and misrepresenting the proposal’s effects on Arlington government would not have been part of the plan.

      • Chris

        I did start with “it is beside the point” so thanks.

        The CBA came up short; it’s troubling that the vendor they used to collect signatures failed to do a background check.

  • BoredHouseWife

    I don’t know if I should be upset that CBA violated election laws, or if I should be upset that Simmons is a felon because she is poor and black.

    • Thes

      BHW: what you should be upset about is the possibility that this poor black felon will take the fall alone for the organized corruption of a larger group.

  • OMG

    Does anyone actually know the facts? Many of your comments are pure speculation. Here are some facts: the signiture company assured CFBA that all employees were backgroud checked, lived and were registered voters….they broke that contract! Ms. Simmons may have lied, we may never know. The unions used the company out of necessity / desperation…. But I bet they won’t ever again. The membership knows what was going on with the move on County Govt….don’t kid yourself that they are less than intelligent….they put themself in harms way every day…shame on you to turn your back on them….they’ve NEVER concidered it! One sheet had a wrong date on it and you want to hang this Dena, one sheet and it was a 7 instead of a 17….too close for me to call. In the end….16000 residents signed the petition….people are no all happy with the way Arlington is managed….but those in power are content that everything is ok…..I’m not good with ok….some change is good….was this the best kind or way? We’ll never know. Pretty big feat for the Unions to take on….the Rep’s and zgrn’s signed on…. But did almost nothing to push the cause. Nice try guys….now you know what you’re up against. Good luck on your suit against the collection company…..they were your only true mistake!

    Concerned Informed Observer

    • BoredHouseWife

      If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    • Wake. Up.

      Actually, Matt, I never turned my back on the public safety officers. I felt betrayed — as a pro-union, pro-fire-fighter and pro-police Democrat who contributed to their causes, defended their heroism, and embraced them as part of my community — the minute they decided that their best option was this horrible, ill-conceived plan for their own professional gain at the expense of any other consideration. Someone turned their back on me.

      How can you not realize how much trust and credibility has been lost by your unions’ actions? Have you even tried to understand anyone’s point of view but your own?

      If you continue to believe that attacking Arlington residents is your way out of this morass of bad public relations and bad faith, things will get even worse for you before they get better.

      I don’t begrudge you the right to want change. I am disgusted by the complete lack of concession, regret, or reconciliation from everyone who has spoken in defense of this increasingly appalling attempt to achieve it.

      • Matt W.

        Wake Up,
        This effort was not about anyone’s own professional gain at the expense of any other consideration.
        It was about all the needs of the community being heard directly by the elected officials of the county, something impossible under our current form of government.
        I don’t think anyone has attacked Arlington or its residents in this effort and if they did, I disagree with them. This was about getting a form of government that was responsive to the needs of Arlington resident and not set up to be able to ignore them without accountability.
        Wake up, I don’t think you have read our literature. There would be one year to make any of the legislative fixes that CAGG was concerned about. More than one of the CAGG volunteers stopped interrupting our efforts as much when they learned that fact.

        • Seriously

          Matt, I don’t presume to know how much time have you spent working on legislation at the General Assembly that affects more than one local jurisdiction.

          (Unfortunately, you can’t count your experience on behalf of just Arlington, because we enjoy unique status based on – that’s right – our *current* form of government. Usually, we don’t have to negotiate with others for specific privileges in our category. Although sometimes what we want threatens other interests beyond our borders, and we can’t get unique powers even then. But that’s another show.)

          If anyone would like to know exactly how “easy” it would have been for our state delegation to undo all the damage the CBA proposal would have done to our powers from the state, I recommend you talk to the non-partisan Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, the state’s leading local government relations associations, or any of the government relations officers from Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax, Stafford, and Fauquier counties.

          VML & VACO are based in Richmond, and are very happy to hear from members of the public:

          http://www.vml.org/ (Mark Flynn)
          http://www.vaco.org/ (Ted McCormack)

          I would have also recommended Jeff Gore, the local government powers expert who refuted CBA’s claims last December at Committee of 100; unsurprisingly, CBA then dismissed his research and presentation. No one with comparable expertise has ever claimed Jeff was wrong. Ask Mark & Ted — or any other government powers state lobbyist — why that is.

          You can find these folks on their websites; I happen to have all of their phone numbers in my rolodex. Guess what I do for a living?

          • Matt W.

            Seriously,
            You must have missed Ron Carlee’s Q&A at the ACDC.

          • Thes

            Matt, did Ron Carlee say it was a good idea to change our form of government? Did he say it was “impossible” under our current form of government for the needs of the community being heard directly by the elected officials of the County? (Like, say, to hear about the effect of a single outdoor patio seating area near some houses?) Did he say our current form of government was not responsive to the needs of Arlington residents? (Like when they rally to support a library?) Did he say our system allows the Board and manager to ignore the voters without accountability? (Like the Board did with the two Managers it fired?) Did he agree that firefighters and police (and their union leaders) were banned from speaking to the County Board?

            Perhaps it is you who missed what Carlee had to say.

        • Thes

          And Matt, please note that your particular method of collecting signatures, in which you spoke honestly with voters and answered their questions with at least a semblance of partially correct (if one-sided and unrebutted) information, yielded only 991 lines. Another 12,000 lines were gathered by people who asserted merely that they were gathering signatures to “help the firefighters” or worse, made up lies such as that police union is banned from speaking to the Board. You may be disappointed to learn that passing out CBA’s literature was generally not part of their deceptive, but more “successful” program of lies. This may partly account for why people (including most who signed) are completely unfamiliar with your more legitimate but less effective message. Not enough real (non-felon) Arlingtonians could be found who felt strongly enough to deliver it.

          • Matt W.

            Thes,
            The Police Chief and Fire Chief as well as the other heads of county departments are banned from providing their professional opinion on the needs of the community to the elected officials of the county.

          • Thes

            Funny, I see them on TV doing it at public County Board meetings all the time. Is that what you’ve been telling voters?

          • Matt W.

            Thes,
            You have never seen the heads of county departments talk directly to the County Board without all of their remarks/recommendations dictated to them by the County Manager. For them to talk directly to the County board without pre-approval of the engagement and the substance of the communication is not allowed. If this is happening, please let me know because the board and manager have violated Virginia Law.

          • Thes

            Happens all the time. Happens at most County Board meetings. In fact there was a point in the last Board meeting where a Board member specifically asked the Manager to stop trying to answer a question and let his staff do so instead. Which the Manager promptly did. If you think that was a violation of law (I don’t), you may wish to report it to the police. I think the police would be better off investigating why felon Cheryl Simmons was tasked by their own union leaders with collecting and retaining a bunch of identifying information about voters. Oh, and also signing forms she didn’t collect.

          • WE ARE Free

            This misinformation has got to stop. Yes, the County operates under the County Manager form of government. Yes, the CM is the official, legal connection between staff and the elected officials. This is designed to protect the civil service staff from political pressure. However, the CM can and does authorize certain staff to have direct contact with board members, to aid efficiency in communication. The authority rests with the CM and he/she can delegate and authorize this communication. And as a result, yes, the police chief and fire chief have direct access to the elected officials (along with a couple dozen other staff). So stop the lies, Matt.

    • Just the Facts

      Actually, “16000 residents” DIDN’T sign the petition. A significant number of the signatures were non-residents or duplicates or couldn’t otherwise be verified.

  • Matt

    I don’t think people should lose sight of the massive cuts to public safety that were averted by the Committee for a Better Arlington’s efforts. Arlington was slated to lose half of the heavy rescue trucks, 25 community police officers, important emergency management positions, and county court officers. All this after significant pension cuts in the previous budget cycle. Now Chris Zimmerman is campaigning on increasing the number of medic units after he allowed the County Manager to provide him political cover on the issue for over five years.

    Without the update to Arlington’s form of government community needs can continue to be ignored without any political accountability. Due to the efforts of the CBA maybe now Arlington will have enough medic units so that we don’t run out on a week day basis.

    The ballot initiative was good policy and good for Arlington and the CBA was good for Arlington, if local democrats need to tear down their fellow Arlingtonians to justify their obstructionism and harrassing of citizens out to improve their community, so be it. I know we did good here and am proud of the changes instituted by our efforts even if we didn’t get on the ballot.

    The perfect symbol of this whole campaign effort has been the CAGG volunteer trying to obstruct a conversation with a shopping cart while demanding to see a driver’s license all the while a CBA volunteer was trying to talk with a voter about how the current form of government effects how community needs are both heard and not heard by elected officials.

    • Arlington Budget FY11

      In the spring of this year, the County Board protected more than $2.7 MM in proposed cuts to the police, fire and sheriff’s departments, including 25 FTE jobs, a heavy rescue unit and the District teams/community policing programs.

      http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ManagementAndFinance/budget/file76133.pdf

      We raised taxes to help pay for this. We raised fees. We eliminated other positions in the affordable housing and human services divisions, and who knows where else.

      You’re welcome.

  • Set the record straight

    Matt, let’s set the record straight.

    First, the petition drive was set into motion in October/November of 2009, well before the County Managers budget was ever released. It was not a reaction to the proposed budget, and the restoration of proposed cuts was not in response to the referendum.

    Second, the County Managers budget proposed cuts across all County Departments in an effort to close Arlington’s budget gap (which, compared to many neighboring jurisdictions was quite modest). And many cuts across all departments were restored – even to those departments whose unions were not actively working to change the form of government in a misguided effort to promote their own narrow self-interest.

    Third, its nice to see someone who is (apparently) on the inside of CBA actually admitting that this whole effort was about money for the police and firefighters. Better to be direct about what you want rather than cover it up in lofty language of districts and direct representation, or use nebulous phrases like better communication. This whole CBA effort was an attempt to create a better bargaining position for the unions to negotiate and pressure the County for more money.

    And what exactly was the good that you claim it did? Rather than try to publicly and directly address the concerns of the public safety community, CBA waged an expensive and divisive campaign, CBA brought in consultants from Utah and Colorado to do the grassroots work because you were not able to muster from volunteer ranks, and CBA undermined the public trust by hiring a firm with a known reputation for dishonesty and who burned you by using a convicted felon (who was in all likelihood just signing for other collectors who were ineligible). Are those changes that you are proud of?

    • Bob

      Exactly. Mike Staples and Tom Dennis got fussy because the County Manager couldn’t be demagogued into more benefits and toys in these budgetary times. They then went running to the people who are always on the “30″ side in 30-70 elections, and tried to work something out. The cost would have been to numerous other programs that get special permissions from Richmond to function under this unique form of government. Permissions that would not have been forthcoming if the 4 southwestern counties were affected as well.

      Now we’re supposed to believe it’s some sort of pure good that the cuts Matt describes are restored. Well, I see branch libraries closed one weekday each week. I would trade a heavy vehicle or two to keep those open. I would trade away community police officers to get some more units of affordable housing, units that would actually house rank-and-file, yes, police officers. I would also trade away a couple of county court officers in exchange for reduced athletic fees for high school students.

      See Matt, there’s no free lunch. What this petition sacrificed was post-9/11 goodwill the police and fire personnel had enjoyed. The rank and file suffers scrutiny and skepticism, as their elected Union leadership used an amateurish non-union signature outfit that relied upon at least one convicted felon to gather signatures.

      If that’s the effort you give for something that matters to you, what kind of “work” are you putting forth on real emergencies, such as the child predator down near Arlandria. The one Fox5 showed you’ve been less than effective in your “investigation”?

      • Matt W.

        Bob,
        The trade-offs you say you prefer are all options for the County Board to consider. This petition effort would have ensured that they would be able to make those decisions with the full information on the needs of the community. As it stands now the County Board could institute all of the options you listed without access to the professional opinion of those responsible for those programs telling the board the effects of the cuts. ie Degraded response to accidents, complete elimination of community policing which is the most effective program for preventing major crime, and courts in session without enough sheriffs to ensure safe courtrooms for all.
        The effort was not about money it was about communications, full information and direct representation.
        CBA thought one year was enough time to make any legislative fixes in terms of Dillon rule authorities and the CAGG thought that our elected leaders in Richmond, couldn’t get it done in a year. All this after Ron Carlee told the ACDC that Arlington was likely to get what it asked for in Richmond.

    • Matt W.

      Set,
      The concerted effort to collect signatures started in Feb. and the momentum of the effort coincided with the restoration of the deep cuts in public safety considered by the County Board.
      When voters found out that current Manager Form of government prevents the Fire Chief from telling the elected officials about the loss of half of the heavy rescue units in the county would affect emergency response, they let the board know how effective the signature gathering was going at the time.

      This effort was not about money. The effort was about the structural problems inherent in the County Manager Form of Government. The effort was about making sure that the elected officials of the county were making decisions about the budget with full information on the needs of the community, something they haven’t done in the last five year. When issues like not having enough medic units are never heard by the elected officials or when defective hydraulic systems affect firefighter safety are ignored by the county manager and structurally keep from the elected officials of the county then there is an issue with communication and direct representation.
      There is no free lunch, but I told voters that I want to live in a community where the professional opinion of Fire Chiefs, Police Chiefs and department heads of all county departments can discuss the needs of the community with the elected officials of the county. I believe painting a clearer picture of the needs of the community for elected officials is a good thing.

      This was a grass roots effort. That is what talking with voters in front of local groceries is all about grass roots efforts.

      • Set the record straight

        All your spinning is starting to make me dizzy…

        It was a grassroots effort? 68% of all the signatures were collected by four paid collectors. The unions spent over $35,000 hiring petition collection firms from Utah and Colorado. And there were only ~35 people in the entire county who collected signatures at all. You and a handful of other volunteers did work hard, but you can’t call it a grassroots effort – more like Astroturf.

        The record clearly shows that the referendum started in October / November of last year. Mike Staples appeared before the Comm of 100 in December of last year to debate the issue and collect signatures – again well before the budget was submitted. And the large majority of the signatures were collected AFTER the entire budget process was completed.

      • Captain Obvious

        Also, the signature collection effort obviously WASN’T going well in February, or you would have hit your numbers.

  • Thes

    It appears the CBA has now ripped both their website and their Facebook page off the interwebs. Why don’t they want to use those resources to defend their actions?

  • Skeptical

    I wonder if anyone has noticed that everybody lost here.

    I did sign the petition because I felt it was appropriate to open up a formal debate, within the fall election cycle, about the question of supervisor districts, which I think would open up electoral possibilities for people other than the fairly exclusive club that has controlled every seat on the Board for the past ten years. The “debate” on Internet boards, between mostly anonymous contenders, was not a substitute for a discussion between named people who would own their arguments in front of everyone in civic meetings and on local cable. Arlington would not come crashing down if we elected one Green or one (gasp!) moderate Republican to the Board, it would be more truly representative of the County’s population, and some questions would be asked that aren’t being asked now.

    No, I wasn’t as sanguine about the idea of changes that would let the downstate crowd jerk us around more than they already do. I don’t see that the one change necessarily requires the other, and I think that provision would have led to a defeat in the fall. But I believe the discussion was warranted.

    However, the core proponents of the petition appear to have been more narrowly focused and poorly organized than any of us could have imagined. I know a lot of people who perked up their ears when they heard about the petition — from me, months after it got off the ground. Lack of support wasn’t just about lack of support, it was about lack of profile. Publicity was abysmal; people who aren’t local news junkies (yes, some people go all year without reading the Sun Gazette, or this site) just didn’t get the word. I didn’t see any use of the Internet’s resources (Facebook, Twitter, etc.); I didn’t see any signs encouraging people to check out the lackluster CBA website that did exist. You could plaster this county with signs for $1000. What the hell did they do with 45 grand? I guess it went to pay signature collectors who wouldn’t have been necessary if someone had known more about how to do outreach — or to take the half a loaf (district elections) that would have been better than none (most county residents wouldn’t have liked more state meddling).

    But, not to be outdone, the Arlington Clerk’s Office plasters Social Security numbers all over the Web. I used to think rather well of Paul Ferguson — I’ve seen him handle some very abrasive individuals with considerable courtesy and poise. But there’s no excuse for that stunt — it was either incompetent or vindictive and I don’t know which reason I’d rather believe. I suggest that anyone who signed and appended even a part of their SSN put up a three-agency alert for identity theft (Equifax, where I have an account, has one up for me).

    I think it’s ugly when liberal Arlingtonians, presumably mostly supportive of unions, bash the police and fire unions as greedy.

    I think it’s ugly when people who have something to prove are so careless in pursuit of their goal that they waste the honest volunteerism of sincere supporters with slapdash planning and irresponsible contracting.

    It’s just sad.

    • Thes

      The Clerk’s office didn’t release ANY SSNs from individual voters.

      As the law allows, the Clerk’s office did release the SSNs of the 30 or so signature *collectors* on paper copies. Some of that info was included for about 3 or 4 hours on material CAGG posted on their website before they, too, took it down. Ferguson later said the lawful release on paper was against his past voluntary policy of redacting all SSNs.

      Oh, and meanwhile the *Arlington police union* hired an unsupervised out-of-state contractor and a *felon* to collect voter signatures. SHE and they had access to all the Voter SSNs on her pages before they were even sent to the Clerk’s office. For that reason, a 3-agency alert for ID theft may well be warranted for the voters that signed her pages. Perhaps they should be warned!

      • Jaw Drop

        Holy crap.

      • Skeptical

        Correction noted as to who posted the unredacted petitions. However, the phrase I recall from the earlier discussion was that Ferguson went on record saying he didn’t know of anything that obliged those who published the petitions to redact SSN’s. That is lame, and unless someone can demonstrate that I read that toally wrong, my goodwill for Mr. Ferguson remains cancelled.

        The numbers may have been removed from sight, but it doesn’t take long for Web bots of various sorts to lift data sequences that conform to desirable information (e-mail addresses, SSNs) from the Web. Stick up your e mail on some chat page or web site and see how fast you start getting spammed to death.

        • Jaw Drop

          Now multiply that concern by the number of people who added their SSN# to petitions being collected by a felon.

          • Thes

            According to her sworn statements, felon Cheryl Simmons had those sheets in her possession for weeks. Did she make and retain copies? Ken Dennis apparently claims Simmons was totally unsupervised and could have been doing absolutely anything with that information. Are Ken Dennis and Dena Kozanas cooperating with police to track down any copies of voter SSNs still held by Cheryl Simmons?

          • Another civic activist

            So, what is the police doing here? Are they going to arrest Simmons, question Kozansas, Staples, and Dennis or sweep it all under the rug?

          • Skeptical

            I agree that it’s bad enough for people to hire and contract so irresponsibly that someone convicted of financial felonies had possession of numerous SSNs, and yes, I am concerned about that too. As I stated before, no one behaved well and nobody won.

            The one-two punch comes when those supposedly advocating for GOOD GOVERNMENT, and/or in office, expose the same information on the Internet, or say anything to excuse that exposure. These are the people who were saying loudly that we should all leave things in their capable hands. WTF?

          • Thes

            Really, Skeptical? You think we’d be better off governed by the people who hired felon Cheryl Simmons, rather than the people who exposed her fraud? You openly admit to holding one side to a standard of absolute perfection and the other side to… far less?

            CBA’s people are actual police and fire employees, with a paid professional campaign manager. Yet they hired a felon to lie on the forms and collect personal information from thousands of people. They are the ones who should have the higher standard (if anyone should), not the volunteers at CAGG, who so far have at least managed to obey the law.

        • Jack

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/28/AR2010072805887.html

          Just so there’s no doubt here, there is nothing illegal about publishing publicly available documents that happen to contain SS numbers. The above link describes a recent court case affirming this fact. That CAGG went the extra mile to redact each one when they didn’t have to is only to their credit.

  • Whitney

    Not sure why anyone would have put their Social Security No. on the Petition Sheet, as it was not required.

    I think Skeptical’s analysis is right here. Nobody “won.”

    Also, I wonder whether the right course of action at this stage is not trying to change the form of government via the referendum route, but instead getting our current form changed to correct/change whatever flaws we think are there. For example, could the state statute be amended to explicitly permit communication between the Board members and the department heads? Or to require single member districts? Or simultaneous election of all Board member? Or whatever other changes seem desirable?

  • Staples is a coward

    Apparently he won’t talk to independent news sources, but he’ll talk to Republican bloggers:

    http://rednova8.com/wordpress/?p=2621

    Love the refrain–”we’re just lowly, unsavvy cops and firefighters up against an evil political machine.”

    • Union Woman

      Staples would do well to remember which party has consistently protected union interests. ‘Cause it’s not the Republicans.

  • Captain Obvious

    I’m loving all the CBA supporters on here who are trying to push the “we got what we wanted anyway” message. If that’s true, then it’s pretty clear you DIDN’T need some ridiculous, drastic step like changing our (very effective) government to get what you want. Perhaps as you assess what you need to do going forward, CBA, you’ll realize that you could have saved the $45,000 of union money you spent on union busting firms and political consultants and done a small, grassroots campaign to get citizens involved in and caring about your issues–even if you think you can’t present your concerns to the County Board, citizens can.

  • Captain Obvious

    Also, to the comment from Mike Staples that Jay Fisette was somehow trying to intimidate people who signed the petitions by putting their info online:

    1) By law, the petitions are available for public inspection, and
    2) If the Registrar hadn’t done that, the CBA people would have been claiming all kinds of fraud re: how signatures were discredited. Only way to prevent you spreading another pack of lies was to keep it all out in the public.

    • Thes

      Don’t forget, the Registrar doesn’t even report to Jay Fisette. She is (indirectly) hired by and reports to the Circuit Court. Once again Mike Staples shows he doesn’t even know the basic facts about how our government works, but is nonetheless certain how it ought to be changed. What a doofus.

  • Correction?

    I think you both mean Paul Ferguson, Clerk of the Circuit Court, not Jay Fisette, Chairman of the County Board.

    • Thes

      Nope. If Staples had said that, he would of course also be wrong, but he said Jay Fisette, which was wrong.

      • Charles Foster Kane

        From RedNoVA’s “candid Q&A” with Mike Staples:

        “It seemed like since the Chairman of the Board (Jay Fisette) was against this, all the rules changed…..Putting names and addresses online, that’s just troubling..I have no idea why they felt compelled to do that.”

        Staples said Jay Fisette, and Staples meant Jay Fisette. You see, Jay is part of the Great Conspiracy. Jay, and Paul Ferguson, and CAGG, and ACDC, and the Trilateral Commission, and Dr. Mudd.

        “Ahh, but the strawberries — that’s… that’s where I had them.”

  • Matt W.

    Thes,
    You should really do your homework before making such broad statements.
    http://www.betterarlington.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/County-Board-Protocol.pdf

  • Thes

    Matt, to which broad statement of mine do you refer? I notice you have pulled your comment out of any particular thread here. Still, I don’t see any of my statements being contracted by this memorandum. However YOUR broad statement, above “The Police Chief and Fire Chief as well as the other heads of county departments are banned from providing their professional opinion on the needs of the community to the elected officials of the county.” Is specifically specifically contracted by this memo, which states: “Members of the County Board and their staff MAY directly contact department directors to request information”

    Also it is contracted by reality. There isn’t any “secret information” that is not able to reach the Board. For example the police and fire unions themselves are perfectly free to provide information to the Board without the County Manager even finding out, much less providing permission.

    Meanwhile, here’s an article that might help you with understanding and addressing your cognitive dissonance:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

    Please be careful. You have poured so much work into this mistaken, misguided, mishandled, failed and discredited effort that you are in danger of losing your remaining grip on reality, just as cultists do when the world does not in fact end on the schedule they predicted.

  • Matt W.

    Thes,
    you should read more carefully before making such claims. You obviously haven’t read the memo or my comments close enough to make the judgements you have in your above comments.

    • Jack

      And you obviously are incapable of refuting what Thes has said, which is spot on. Your concerns about the memo are overstated and incorrect. Moreover, Ron Carlee is gone. Have you even attempted to revisit your issues with the new County Manager? No.
      Instead, the unions formed an unholy alliance with the GOP and sketchy out-of-state petition firms who hired felons to collect signatures and personal information from Arlington voters. They lied about the impacts of the initiative. And they submitted petitions that on their face could not have been collected in the manner claimed by the circulators and notary. In fact, your leaders may well have committed election fraud. I really hope someone investigates that.
      All this, and you are still whining about who can talk to who? For chrissakes, pick of the phone and call a county board member if you want like every other interest group does. They do take calls, you know.

  • Pettifogger

    FYI, the county is pursuing charges against two of the signature collectors: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/crime-scene/arlington/two-indicted-on-voter-fraud-in.html?wprss=crime-scene

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