Having read the piece, I agree. It is important. Very much so.
Here's the meat of it:
Lawmakers walk fine line of conflictThe related story that drew the most attention this past summer had to do with another delegate working a similar angle. From the same article:
Bill Sizemore and Julian Walker , The Virginian-Pilot, and Michael Sluss, The Roanoke Times
The 2009 Virginia General Assembly was a fiscal nightmare. The national recession had left the state a record $3.7 billion short of revenue needed to balance its two-year budget, and everything was on the chopping block.
Nevertheless, the lawmakers found $250,000 in planning funds for a new library at the University of Virginia's College at Wise.
David Prior, chancellor of the branch campus in the Appalachian Mountains, couldn't contain his excitement. And he knew just whom to thank.
"Senator....LIBRARY!!!" he e-mailed state Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, hours after the Assembly adjourned. "I am frickin' stunned ... thrilled and deeply appreciative ... thank you does not capture the depth of my feeling for all you do ... I am not the huggy type, but would lay a Green Bay Packer, Brett come-from-behind winning drive hug on you were you standing here with me this morning."
A month later, Prior e-mailed Wampler with news of a different sort: He had a green light from the university board of visitors to offer the senator a half-time position on the college faculty. Wampler went on the payroll June 1 at an annual salary of $60,000. [link]
Each case is different, and none is an exact parallel to that of Del. Phil Hamilton, who lost his $40,000-a-year position at Old Dominion University in August following revelations that he was lobbying for the job while he was shepherding the state appropriation that funded it. The Newport News Republican is now the target of investigations by a House ethics panel and a federal grand jury.First, I should put up a cautionary thought. These guys and gals don't get paid squat for what they do. What? $17,000 a year (plus expenses)? So it's understandable that they are going to have outside income. Some latitude is appropriate.
But the potential conflict of interest is there - in part because these folks don't make squat, one might argue.
And William Wampler, if the information presented above is accurate, crossed well over the line. Perception, in politics, is reality, sir. And though Mr. Wampler may be able to separate the quid from the pro quo in his mind, the voters of the commonwealth cannot. And should not. He is receiving cash across the table from the university for which he secured taxpayer cash.
That's wrong. Unequivocally wrong.
William Wampler should have refused the position offered by the university or refused to continue being a member of the House of Delegates, and accepted the offer. But he should not have done what he did.
There is another example cited in the article, of a politician - again a delegate to the House - who, by all appearances, handles himself properly, and understands where that clearly defined line is:
Del. David Nutter, R-Christiansburg, has worked for Virginia Tech since 1988. After his 2001 election to the House, he moved from the school's office of university relations to the office of economic development. He takes unpaid leave during legislative sessions and earned $61,000 in 2008.That, friends, is how it should be viewed. And that's commendable.
Nutter said he is careful to avoid potential conflicts between his legislative and university work.
"I just try to walk the line as best I can," he said. "Fortunately, I haven't had to abstain much."
Nutter said that he abstained from voting on a 2006 bill authorizing management agreements that gave Tech, William and Mary and the University of Virginia greater autonomy "because that was so specific" to those institutions.
Nutter avoids even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
How to handle this and maintain one's position (as well as one's credibility)? "Nutter said that he abstained from voting ..." It's as simple as that.
Some, it seems, just don't get it. Or don't want to get it:
Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, has worked for Christopher Newport University off and on since 1996. He is now associate director of CNU's Virginia Electronic Commerce and Technology Center. The center will cease operations Dec. 31, and Miller plans to leave the university then.No, Johnny Boy, we don't expect you to find another career (for both you and your wife, ahem). But we do expect you to stop padding the wallet of those who are padding yours. There's no gray area here. It's flat out black-and-white wrong. So stop it.
Elected to the Senate in 2007, he has taken unpaid leave during legislative sessions. He earned $79,000 in 2008. He introduced $33 million in CNU-related budget measures this year.
"I would hope we would not require everyone who works in the public sector to find another career after they are elected to the legislature," Miller said. "Christopher Newport University is a big part of my district, and the folks that work there are my constituents.
"When the president of the university comes to me and says 'I'd like you to offer budget amendments' that don't affect me in any way, I'm proud to introduce them."
Miller's wife, Sharron Kitchen Miller, also works at CNU in the office of university advancement. She earned $62,000 in 2008.
Either that or have a widely read and influential weblog denounce you for the impropriety of your actions and watch as I call upon the voters of your district to bounce your ass from office. (Like you and your wife really need the state gig anyway).
Why don't you have a sit-down with Dave Nutter and have him explain to you how to avoid the obvious. Learn the word A-B-S-T-E-N-T-I-O-N. And F-I-D-U-C-I-A-R-Y. Make us proud.
Or move on. And make us proud.
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* By the way, a simple heads-up when things like this appear in the paper would be nice. That's partly why I offer up my email address. Use it. I try to read EVERYTHING written here in the United States EVERY DAY, but I occasionally miss one or two news items that are worth comment. Drop me a line. I enjoy the mental exercise. And I enjoy equally the opportunity to expose the work of good reporters to the world around us.
And thanks to the commenter for bringing this article to my attention. Good stuff.