ONLY TWO TESTIFY AT VIRTUAL HEARING FOR EASTERN REGION

The July 22 virtual hearing for the Eastern region was very brief with only two citizens testifying.  New commissioner Virginia Trost-Thornton provided a touch of excitement when she joined by phone at the end of the hearing.  Commission Co-chair Greta Harris, who was presiding, greeted her with “fantastic timing!” Sen. Steve Newman (R-Forest) mentioned, “Virginia may be only 29 but I’ve known her for 35 years.  She is extremely bright, has degrees in engineering and law, and is much involved in the community. The Commission has made a high-quality pick and you’ll enjoy getting to know her.” 

She was also “welcomed aboard” by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) and citizen commissioners Brandon Hutchins of Virginia Beach and James Abrenio of Fairfax. (Nice touch of a dock and boat for Del. Simon’s virtual background for this Eastern region hearing.)

The two citizens that spoke, however, did not specifically address concerns of the Eastern Region which includes the Counties of Accomack, Essex, King & Queen, Lancaster, Middlesex, Northhampton, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland.  (Defined by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.)

Carl Anderson speaking via Zoom was actually from Hampton and echoed testimony from the July 20 in-person hearing held in Hampton asking for communities to be kept whole.  He urged the commission to “take one step forward and not split more than two cities, counties, or precincts in any district.”  He called for the Commission to get rid of all incumbent addresses and start from scratch.  Anderson further testified, “All of Hampton should be in one district. When my family moved to Hampton, we were told we were fortunate to have 3 congressmen.  I look at this differently.  We had no representation. We were at the tail end of 3 congressional districts with congressmen who had bigger fish to fry. “

Erin Corbett, Redistricting Coordinator for the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET), brought to the attention of the Commissioners that “the virtual process for live comments is extremely confusing and overwhelming.”  She asked the Division of Legislative Services (DLS) to look into a better more user-friendly way to incorporate this type of feedback. 

In a break from normal meeting protocol, Co-chair Harris asked if Ms. Corbett could be more specific about the challenges.   Corbett replied, “Zoom allows for participants to be made into speakers or panelists so we are given an alert that we are about to be unmuted.  This needs to be done for the Commission hearings as I couldn’t see or hear the commission in any way.”

Harris acknowledged, “With the hybrid mode we have run into a few technical difficulties.  We appreciate feedback and will continuously try to improve.”  She added “at the hearing at Old Dominion University, we could hear in person but hearing virtual comments on live-streaming was difficult.”  Sen. Newman agreed, “We’ve heard some of the same things.  Is there a technical fix?”  DLS Director Amigo Wade responded “We will look into it today.  Should be straight forward.”  He also asked that individual commissioners who get comments forward the emails to DLS.  When Virginia Trost-Thornton spoke to the commissioners at the end of the meeting, she mentioned struggling to join in.  Harris commented “Your experience with getting on is another lesson.”

A third person who registered to testify did not sign in to speak. Harris mentioned the relatively small number of persons registered and encouraged citizens across the commonwealth to join them for future hearings.  The next hearing will be in-person, Tuesday, July 27 at 4 p.m. in Dewberry Hall at George Mason University. 

A second opportunity for residents of the Eastern region to specifically provide input to the Commission is tentatively set for September 20 after the maps are drawn.  Residents of that area could also speak at any of the other in-person or virtual hearings.  Full details are available on the Commission’s website.

 

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Hampton Roads Area Residents Detail Gerrymandering to Commission

A determined group of speakers showed up  with maps and details July 20 to describe to five members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission how their communities had been divided up and their legislative and congressional districts redrawn for political purposes in previous rounds of redistricting.

Thirteen persons spoke in-person at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and another three participated virtually. While some had different points of emphasis, almost all of them called for the commission to start its work “from scratch” and to strive to respect jurisdictional boundaries and areas with shared interests as much as they could.

The second of the commission’s four in-person public hearings was led by Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris of Richmond, and attended by Democratic citizen member Brandon Hutchins of Virginia Beach and Republican citizen member Richard Harrell of South Boston. Also attending were Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church), who arrived late, apologizing to a sympathetic audience that “neither tunnel was a good option this morning.” Although the commission has sought to have balanced partisan representation at all of its hearing, no Republican legislator participated in person. (Video recordings of the hearings are archived for later review by the public and other commissioners.)

Several speakers urged the commission to hold more of its hearings and meetings outside of regular business hours so that more people would be able to attend. Two speakers made a point of saying that they were speaking on behalf of others who could not attend because they had to work. Another said she had been unable to monitor the commission’s business, but had taken time off from her job to participate. Harris acknowledged the problem, and said that the commission had tried to schedule its hearings at different times of the day to accommodate different schedules.

At the start of the hearing, Harris asserted that commission members were there to “listen to the citizens of the Commonwealth.” She explained that the commissioners would not be taking questions or engaging in debate. She added that they were particularly interested in hearing about considerations that the commission should take into account, including information about “communities of interest.” But she stressed that “all comments will be heard.” She reminded those present or watching online that “map drawing begins in less than 30 days.”

At the start of the livestream of the commission’s first in-person hearing the week before, Harris’s remarks and those of two speakers could not be heard by remote participants, but that was not an issue this time. While it was difficult for persons listening online to hear the comments of persons who participated virtually, Simon assured listeners that the commissioners in the room were able to hear those comments.

Harris did respond to the question of one participant, who said she did not have comments but wanted to know more about the commission’s process for drawing the maps and receiving public input on them. Harris explained that the commission would hold another round of hearings in September, and referred the speaker to the commission’s website for more details.

At the commission’s first in-person hearing in Farmville, a group of residents from Lynchburg had urged members to reunite their city into a single district. The second hearing, designated for the Hampton Roads area, heard from residents from a wider range of localities, armed with specifics and sometimes maps, to describe the incongruities of the districts where they lived.

 

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Redistricting Commission Chooses New Member from Lynchburg Area

The Virginia Redistricting Committee voted July 19 to fill a vacant seat on the commission by naming Virginia Trost-Thornton of Forest to replace Marvin Gilliam as a Republican citizen member, and moved forward on hiring a consultant to manage its communications and outreach to the public. The commission also tentatively set its next meeting for Tuesday August 3 at 4 p.m., working around the schedule of the General Assembly’s special session and its own schedule of public hearings.

Trost-Thornton, a lawyer and trained chemist from Forest, near Lynchburg, who is of Hispanic ethnicity, was chosen from a list of 12 persons who had been nominated by Sen. Minority Leader Tommy Norment last January and who were still willing to serve. The commission’s original citizen members were appointed by a panel of five retired appeals court judges, but it fell to the commission itself to fill the vacancy; the appointment of a new Republican member required the support of at least one Democratic member.

At the outset of the meeting, Mackenzie Babichenko, the commission’s Republican co-chair, said that she and her Democratic counterpart, Greta Harris, had reached out informally to other commissioners to see which candidates had the most support. She said that Trost-Thornton and one other nominee, Jeff Bolander from McGaheysville, had been suggested by more than one of the members they were able to consult.  Bolander, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and Defense Department employee,  was a member of the Rockingham County Republican Committee when he submitted his application.

Harris began by nominating Trost-Thornton. Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) then introduced a substitute motion to nominate Bolander, noting that the commission had no member from the I-81 corridor. Bolander lives in what is designated as the “Valley” on the regional maps used by the commission while Trost-Thornton’s hometown is in the “West Central” region. During the discussion, several members supported appointing a member from the southwestern part of the state, as close as possible to where Gilliam had lived. Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) said he felt it was important to have someone from that part of the state because that was where the state’s population was declining the most, and many of those districts would need to be redrawn and consolidated.

Responding to the regional concerns, Harris noted that while she now lives in Richmond, she was born in Danville. She said that “while I think we want the most inclusive body that we can, I think each of us in our selection has been charged with representing the entire state.”

Last January, Bolander’s name was submitted by both Norment and House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert. As the judges considered names, his was, at one point, put forward by all five of the judges as they reviewed the lists submitted by the General Assembly’s party leaders, but was passed over when the final slate of members was put together. Trost-Thornton’s name was on the short list of one of the judges who reviewed the applicants.

The motion to appoint Bolander was approved by a vote of 7-5, with abstentions by two Democratic members. But he failed to get the majority of the commission that Division of Legislative Services staff members explained was needed in this case. Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) provided the Democratic vote that would have been needed; Republican citizen member Jose Feliciano voted against appointing Bolander.

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REDISTRICTING COMMISSION HOLDS VIRTUAL HEARING FOR VIRGINIA’S WEST CENTRAL REGION

On July 15, The Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC) held its first virtual public hearing, focusing on the West Central Region of Virginia, as defined by the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center Demographic Regions Map (cities: Lynchburg, Radford, Roanoke, Salem; counties: Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke).

There were intermittent connectivity issues with several registered speakers, but the Commission staff worked through them so that everyone was able to present their views.

Of those who spoke, five discussed the economic and educational triangle described by Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Radford in Montgomery County.  They all agreed that this area, and also the county, is a clear community of interest.  Peggy Layne, a member of the League of Women Voters, said “…it would be better served if the county, to the extent possible, had the same representative. “

Matthew Gabriele, a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, agreed with earlier speakers, stating, “I hope this Redistricting Commission will remedy a longstanding wrong in the way that southwestern Virginia has been treated in which it has been carved up unnaturally to the detriment of our citizens.”

They highlighted the current representation:  Montgomery County is currently split among three state delegate districts (7th, 8th and 12th). And it is split among three state senate districts (19th, 21st, and 38th).

The people who spoke about Lynchburg reinforced the views of speakers at the July 13, 2021, hearing at Longwood University: Lynchburg would be better served being represented as a single community of interest.

Carla Heath advocated for the Commission to draw the lines so that Lynchburg is represented by one delegate and one state senator.  In closing, she said, “Serving on the inaugural redistricting commission, you have the potential to make Virginia a Fair Maps state.”

Jeffrey Rosner observed that under current legislative districts, Lynchburg is a victim of gerrymandering, “chopped up four ways”.  He continued, saying, “This gives the Commission an opportunity”, that if Lynchburg is put in one delegate district and one state senate district, it would “send a positive message” that gerrymandering is eliminated, increase public confidence in the redistricting process and also “will create a district which better represents a community of interest with greater influence for the more urban and more racially diverse city of Lynchburg.”

The final speaker, William Bestpitch, a member of the Roanoke City Council, requested that Roanoke be included in a single delegate district.  He explained that all elections for mayor, city council and constitutional offices are conducted at large.  Eight of Roanoke’s 20 precincts are split between the 11th and 17th districts. He concluded by requesting that the Commission follow Roanoke’s current precinct lines when drawing legislative districts.

Chair Babichenko concluded the hearing by encouraging the public to continue to send emails with thoughts and suggestions about redistricting to the Commission.  “We are reading them; we will consider all of them…just because you didn’t attend today doesn’t mean you’re missing out.”

The hearing began at 2:00 pm and adjourned at 2:37 pm after hearing from all but one of the registered speakers.

The following Commissioners attended the hearing:  Mackenzie Babichenko, Greta Harris, James Abrenio, Richard Harrell, Brandon Hutchins, Del. Adams, Sen. McDougle, Sen. Newman, Del. Simon.

The public hearings are being livestreamed and saved for future viewing the VRC YouTube channel.

– Candace Butler, LWV-Fairfax

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Redistricting Commission Holds First Public Hearing in Farmville

 

The Virginia Redistricting Commission held its first in-person public hearing July 13, and got the message from the majority of persons who spoke that it should “make Lynchburg whole again.”

The hearing at Longwood University in Farmville was the first of eight hearings the commission has scheduled over the next four weeks, four of them to be held in-person and four held virtually. A few dozen people showed up in person for the first hearing and close to 70 more were recorded as watching the livestream online. To accommodate the livestream, the commission switched to YouTube as its medium, and some viewers had trouble determining where to go once they accessed the commission’s new channel on that site. There was further frustration when remote viewers could not hear the audio portion of the hearing for the first three speakers: Michael Hankins, a Republican supervisor from Lunenburg County; Liz White, director of OneVirginia2021; and James Ghee of the Prince Edward Branch of the state NAACP. A Division of Legislative Services (DLS) staff member said afterwards that the audio would be restored when the hearing was archived on the commission’s website.

White provided a copy of her prepared remarks following the hearing. She used her time to describe how her organization is working with other non-partisan groups, including the Virginia NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, to help promote the commission’s meetings. She also said her organization was actively soliciting public comments from all Virginians and providing opportunities for them to share information about their communities through written, oral and video testimony.

In addition, she said OneVirginia2021 intends to provide this input to the commission in a “regionally relevant way,” both via email and in person at future meetings. Finally, she offered once again to provide her organization’s “expertise from working on this issue for the last decade.” This, she suggested, could range from sharing what the organization has learned from the best practices of other state commissions to providing introductions to “experienced independent map drawers and other experts.”

The commission had agreed to send at least four members to each hearing, evenly divided between the political parties, citizen and legislative members, and chambers of the General Assembly. The Farmville hearing was led by the commission’s Democratic co-chair, Greta Harris of Richmond, and attended by five other members: James Abrenio, a Democratic citizen from Alexandria, Jose Feliciano, a Republican citizen from Fredericksburg, Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Forest), Rep. Les Adams (R-Chatham) and Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax).

The hearing began at 5:30 p.m., and with only eight persons signed up to speak, it adjourned at 6:10 p.m. Barker did not arrive until right after the final public speaker and spoke briefly at the end. (The other commissioners introduced themselves at the outset, but did not make statements.) Under the commission’s procedures, persons are permitted to sign up to testify starting one hour before a hearing begins and ending one hour after it starts, but the first hearing did not last that long. A DLS staff member remained at the hearing site, but said no more speakers arrived before the deadline.

The commission has scheduled its hearings in eight different regions of the state, coinciding with regions as defined by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center. But there is no restriction on who can speak where. The first hearing was designated for the “Southside Region,” which includes Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties. On July 15 at 2 p.m., the commission will hold a virtual hearing designated for the “West Central Region.” Persons wishing to speak must register by 2 p.m. on July 14 at this site. 

Five of the eight persons who spoke at the hearing came from Lynchburg to urge the commission to reunite the city under a single legislative and Senate district, the way it had been before the last round of gerrymandering. Several said that they had been told that dividing the city into two districts would give it more political clout, but they contended that the change had only sown confusion, and that had led to apathy and anger. One of the speakers, Jack Underwood, noted that a new law requires the commission to try to preserve “communities of interest” and argued that the city itself was a “community of interest” and that “the current division harms us.”

Helen Wheelock, another city resident who argued for putting the city back together, said she was “real excited to see the [redistricting] process open and to have our voices heard.” She thanked the commissioners for “putting in the work and making the hard decisions.” But she also urged them to start “with a clean, empty map,” and to bring in professionals to help them.

At the end of the hearing, Harris thanked the participants for “taking the time out of your busy schedules.” She added, “We’re super excited about this new process and just honored to be able to serve our state this way.” After Barker arrived on the stage, Harris told the audience that the commissioners “share information and we try to be transparent.” She said she was “extremely appreciative of the values and approach the commissioners have brought” to their work.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Citizen Member Gilliam Resigns From Commission

The Virginia Redistricting Commission was thrown another curve at its first in-person meeting July 6 when it was announced that Republican Marvin Gilliam, co-chair of its Budget and Finance Subcommittee, had submitted his resignation, effective the next day.

Under the commission’s enabling legislation, the full commission, rather than the Commission Selection Committee of appeals court justices, is designated to select Gilliam’s replacement. The member must come from the list of potential commission members submitted by Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment because he was the legislator who nominated Gilliam. The Division of Legislative Services staff said it would reach out to the remaining names on Norment’s list (page eight of this document) and forward the applications of those who were still willing to serve to commission members for their consideration. It was expected that the commission would make a decision at its next meeting, scheduled for July 19 at 10 a.m.

The names of Norment’s nominees and a zip file that includes their applications is still available for public review on the commission’s website, under materials for the January 6 meeting of the selection committee. The commission’s Republican co-chair, Mackenzie Babichenko of Mechanicsville, and Richard Harrell, co-chair of the commission’s Public Outreach and Communications Subcommittee, both were appointed from Norment’s list, leaving  a maximum of 14 names, four women and 10 men, for consideration, assuming all are still interested. One of the women is Black and one, Hispanic. The applicants live in six of the state’s eight regions; none, however, is from the Southwest, where Gilliam lives. Gilliam’s inclusion on the list of nominees drew attention after it was reported that the former coal-mining executive from Bristol had donated more than $900,000 to Republican candidates in the state.

Gilliam’s resignation comes as the commission faces new requirements to meet in-person and as it is about to begin a busy month of in-person and virtual public hearings, four of each,  directed to eight designated regions. More times and locations of those hearings were announced at the meeting; the commission committed itself to having in-person representation at every hearing from both citizens and legislators and from both parties; under a tentative schedule posted by DLS, Gilliam had committed only to attending the September 24 in-person hearing scheduled for his region of the state.

Without a communications consultant in place yet, DLS staff said it had been placing ads in print media and distributing press releases to alert the public to the schedule of upcoming hearings.  Staff have also made use of a Twitter account, and a listserve that sends out notifications to persons who provide their e-mail address on the commission’s website. In response to a question from a legislator, the staff said that all of the hearings would be covered by public broadcasting outlets and would be recorded for later viewing.

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Budget and Finance Subcommittee Interviews Counsel Applicants

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee June 28 interviewed three respondents to its solicitation for partisan legal counsel for the commission and then, after discussing them in executive session, moved forward on making a decision.

Subcommittee members spent about thirty minutes interviewing each legal team via Zoom, using a list of questions that commission members submitted in advance and that was posted online before the interviews began. Subcommittee members were permitted to ask additional questions, and the respondents were permitted to make statements at the end of their interviews.

On a unanimous vote, the committee approved a motion to recommend to the full commission that the sole Republican applicant be hired, subject to competitive negotiations with the firm. The motion referenced “Schaerr Jaffe,” but the proposal was the combined work of two firms, the Washington law firm of Schaerr Jaffe and the Atlanta law firm firm of Taylor English. Christopher Bartolomucci of Schaerr Jaffe and Bryan Tyson of Taylor English, who submitted their law firms’ joint proposal, represented their firms in the interview.

On the Democratic side, there were two proposals and the subcommittee moved to enter into competitive negotiations with both firms and to complete its review of their proposals, based on the scoring sheet that was developed for evaluating the responses. The scores  will be part of the public record after they are reported. The commission received proposals from two lawyers, J. Gerald Hebert and Kareem Crayton.

All of the firms responded to several questions, including whether they had ever represented any entity or person in a Virginia redistricting matter, whether they had ever had an attorney-client privilege with any member of the commission and whether they would seek to represent any commission member or partisan caucus in Virginia on a redistricting matter in the future. In addition, the lawyers were asked whether they understood that they would be asked to serve the needs of the full commission. The lawyers were also asked about their workloads during the months when the commission would need their services.

Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) asked the applicants for their “perspective and interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and how would you advise us to ensure that racial and ethnic populations can elect candidates of their choice when they are united in support for a candidate?”

Commission Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican, explored the lawyers’ experience with working with lawyers who offered differing opinions. James Abrenio, a commission member who sat in on the subcommittee’s deliberations, sought the lawyers’ input on the question of whether the commission should hire professionals to help it draw the maps.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) asked all of the applicants to state who won the 2020 presidential election. All agreed that President Biden had won the race and that there was no “reasonable legal basis” for challenging the outcome.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Engagement Subcommittee Still in Need of Outreach Proposals

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Public Engagement Subcommittee met June 25 and wrestled with the dilemma that the commission has received no proposals in response to its RFP for communications and outreach services.

After an hour-long discussion, the subcommittee agreed to extend the deadline for the original RFP until July 5, but to also break its original RFP into sections in hopes of receiving some responses. (The original RFP is here.) 

The subcommittee’s co-chairs, Democrat James Abrenio of Fairfax and Republican Richard Harrell of South Boston, said the two of them had discussed the problem and ways to address it. They expressed concern that the RFP may have been overwhelming to potential respondents, and sought guidance for what they could do legally to encourage responses. Several of the commission’s citizen members said they were prepared to publicize the opportunity through their social media networks if it were permissible.

Division of Legislative Services lawyers cautioned members about how they could communicate that information to avoid “talking about redistricting.” DLS staff acknowledged that they had not promoted the RFP to interested persons because, in the words of lawyer Meg Lamb, “we don’t have the contacts.”

In response to questions, DLS staff said they would create a separate page for the RFPs on the commission’s website to make it easier for persons to publicize.

Like the commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee, which met earlier in the day, the Public Engagement Subcommittee had to wrestle with new meeting requirements that will go into effect with the lifting of the Covid-19 “state of emergency” on June 30. Until the law can be amended, the commission will be required to achieve an in-person quorum for its meetings. The subcommittee considered holding a meeting on July 2, but then gave the DLS staff additional instructions so that the process could continue to move forward without the need to meet in person. The subcommittee may schedule a meeting right before the full commission meeting at 10 a.m. on July 6 to review where the situation stands.

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Budget Subcommittee Plans Review of Legal Counsel Proposals

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee June 25 put in place plans for reviewing the three proposals it received for providing partisan legal counsel for the commission as it goes forward with this year’s redistricting process.

With the scheduled lifting of the Covid-19 state of emergency on June 30, the subcommittee faced a new challenge: trying to schedule another meeting before it would be forced to hold one in person. Consequently, the subcommittee proposed trying to schedule interviews with the prospective firms on the evening of June 29, then holding an executive session that night to review the proposals and try to submit a recommendation to the full commission for approval at its July 6 meeting.

On June 7, the full commission had voted, 10-4, to solicit bids for legal services from firms affiliated with each of the two major political parties. A minority of the commissioners had supported issuing an additional RFP for non-partisan services, but opponents argued that it would be the equivalent of looking for “a unicorn,” and that it would take too much time to determine whether a responding law firm was truly non-partisan.

The RFP for partisan services, however, drew only three proposals, one on the Republican side and two on the Democratic, by the deadline of June 21. One of the Democratic respondents, Crimcard Consulting, said that it had worked for both “partisan and non-partisan decision-makers,” but submitted its response to the Democratic RFP.

The full responses from the firms were posted online before the subcommittee’s meeting and can be viewed here.

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Decision on Hiring Legal Counsel “First Real Test” for Commission

The full Virginia Redistricting Commission met virtually on Monday, June 7 to hear reports and act on recommendations from the two subcommittees – Citizen Engagement and Budget and Finance.  

Votes were unanimously in favor (15 – 0) of the Citizen Engagement Subcommittee’s recommendation to hire a Communication and Outreach Coordinator and approve the Request for Proposal (RFP) for that position with allowance for procedural adjustments by DLS staff.  When attention turned, however, to hiring legal counsel, the discussion was much more divided and described by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) as the “first real test” of the Commission.

On June 2, the Budget and Finance Subcommittee had voted 5-3 to recommend the commission issue two RFPs to hire legal counsel identified with each of the major political parties.  The debate continued in Monday’s full commission with Democratic citizen members James Abrenio and Brandon Hutchins joining in support of the less partisan approach of hiring a single counsel. Sean Kumar actually attended by Zoom while in Japan with the U.S. Army Reserve. Speaking for the first time on the topic, Abrenio said “It’s hard to understand why it would be difficult to just put out an RFP.  A good attorney can identify issues from left and right.  I would rather have one very good attorney who has a complete understanding rather than two different purely partisan attorneys.  This is a big decision.  Why not investigate?” (For more full debate on hiring counsel, see the June 2 Blog.)

Despite testimony from citizens (see below), those advocating for one nonpartisan counsel did not have enough support to outweigh the ten commission members who were strongly in favor of hiring two counsels – one Democrat and one Republican.  Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) expressed concern that he “didn’t want to start down a path where there is unease with the attorney if just one.” Republican citizen Richard Harrell added “We are not a nonpartisan commission.  We are bipartisan. If I am to be informed, I need to have the best advice of the best Republican and the best Democrat attorney because they are most likely to give me the best information. (The “client” is the full Commission, not the two parties.)  Republican citizen Jose Feliciano commented for the first time – “The bottom line is simple.  This is a bipartisan commission.  It makes sense to have a lawyer from each.  We will not find the “unicorn.”  (One nonpartisan lawyer capable of fairly representing the full commission.)  “It may make us feel good, but reality is reality.”

In a series of votes (10 – 4), the full commission voted (10 -4) against searching for nonpartisan counsel, choosing instead to issue two RFPs to select one Democratic firm and one Republican firm. Democratic Senators Mamie Locke (D – Hampton) and George Barker voted with the eight Republican commissioners.

Delegate Marcus Simon (D – Falls Church) continued to vote as he had in committee with the three Democratic citizen commissioners – Kumar, Abrenio and Hutchins.  Commission Co-chair Greta Harris had earlier voiced support for an extra RFP for nonpartisan counsel, but she was not able to vote due to having to make a plane flight.  Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) was present earlier but not for the votes because she had another meeting to attend.

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