The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
Arlington residents learned about a string of ethical and financial transgressions by Arlington County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey last week.
After waiting four months to disclose a $10,000 campaign contribution from Metro’s largest union, Dorsey – who serves as a principal director on the WMATA (Metro) Board – was removed as finance chair of the board in a special meeting last Thursday.
The WMATA Board found that Dorsey violated its code of ethics and likely voted on a number of issues for which he should have recused himself during the four-month period. Dorsey called it a careless oversight, but when independent candidate Audrey Clement raised the issue at the Committee of 100 candidate debate in early October, Dorsey said there was no conflict of interest as the Metro Board does not handle union business.
Dorsey’s rebuttal is patently false. According to Tom Webb, the VP for Labor Relations at WMATA, the WMATA Board not only votes to approve contracts negotiated with ATU 689 (the union that contributed $10,000 to Dorsey’s campaign) and other unions, it also provides direction to the WMATA General Manager in advance of those negotiations. In retrospect, Dorsey’s casual and condescending dismissal of then-candidate Clement’s line of attack reveals another layer of arrogance.
What readers may not realize is the $10,000 contribution is just the tip of the iceberg. On December 3, 2018, Dorsey received a $1,500 contribution from Volkert, which has a contract for the Dulles Silver Line extension. Nine days later, Dorsey used $1,250 of those funds to pay down a 2015 loan.
The second shoe to drop came just one day later when Arlingtonians learned about Mr. Dorsey’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, which occurred on October 16. In the realm of politics, I’m hesitant to criticize anyone’s personal financial misgivings. Bankruptcy is a financial protection provided by law; however, as many readers with various levels of security clearance know, personal financial issues are a major concern when identifying (potential) employees who would be susceptible to ethical compromise.
An egregious aspect of this part of the story is that Mr. Dorsey blamed his public service for his diminished personal income, signaling to residents that he has taken a personal hit to govern over us. As readers will recall, the Arlington County Board voted to raise its salary cap in June of this year. Chairman Dorsey said, “I support increasing the salary cap because I believe it will encourage more people, from varied economic backgrounds, to think about serving on this Board.”
Given the new context, those words likely have new meaning to many readers here.
On top of all that, Chairman Dorsey championed a property tax increase in April of this year, advising Arlington taxpayers to “scrub the family budget” to cover the cost of the tax increase.
Buried in the coverage from last week is the revelation that Mr. Dorsey paid his wife Rachel Feldman $8,000 from his campaign account. Feldman served as campaign manager and designed campaign literature for Dorsey’s lackluster campaign. This is fairly common in politics on both sides of the aisle, but it’s an inconvenient fact for Mr. Dorsey as the current narrative emerges, making the Metro union contribution look like a direct transfer into Mr. Dorsey’s household budget.
Furthermore, Dorsey’s only campaign fundraiser was held in February of this year. According to campaign financial disclosures, Dorsey only paid Feldman when he had cash on hand and spent a considerable amount of campaign contributions paying off campaign debts. Dorsey had little online presence and no website until October. If Feldman was only responsible for yard signs, a campaign palm card, and the campaigns website, were her services really worth $8,000?
Shielding all this information from voters ahead of last Tuesday’s election demonstrates a significant effort to mislead the public and a shocking level of arrogance. Residents should hold Mr. Dorsey accountable to the extent that we can. Perhaps our new Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned to “ensure that nobody, including law enforcement and public officials, is above the law” (per an early mailer), can take a look to ensure Mr. Dorsey hasn’t run afoul of any Virginia laws.
Matthew Hurtt is a 10-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.
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