State Sen. Mark Obenshain has sent a response to Rappahannock Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff, who in a three-page letter to the senator on Jan. 28 warned that a “little group of citizens in Rappahannock County” was engaged in “dirty politics” in proposing a provision to the bill introduced by the Republican that would have prevented Goff from serving simultaneously as county attorney.
Nowhere in his letter did Obenshain address or even marginally bring up Goff’s stated concerns.
As it was, when the senator’s bill — SB 1430 — was unanimously approved by the Senate last week the controversial clause pushed by Obenshain, who represents Rappahannock County, was discarded by state legislators.
Obenshain, who is chair of the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice, has not responded to numerous written and telephone inquiries about his legislation.
Instead, his legislative aide would only provide the Rappahannock News with the senator’s letter to Goff, dated Feb. 8, in which Obenshain pointed to unrelated portions of Senate Bill 1430 and its companion SB 1431 requiring conflict of interest (COIA) training and freedom of information training (FOIA) for local government officials every two years.
“Dear Art,” Obenshain wrote to Goff, who serves as both Rappahannock commonwealth’s attorney and county attorney. “Thank you very much for your letter of January 28 concerning Senate Bill 1430. I can assure you that this bill, along with its companion bill Senate Bill 1431 were introduced because of the important transparency and accountability objectives they advance.
“Over the past few years, the legislature has redoubled its efforts to ensure that the executive and legislative branches of government have at their disposal important tools to assist them in understanding and complying with conflicts of interest and freedom of information laws,” he continued.
“These are complex statutes that have caused confusion and have resulted in violations at every level of government. These bills will serve to make available to local government officials many of the same resources that are already available to our state elected officials. These include online training resources and programs that may supplement other local efforts to ensure compliance with the laws. What we have seen across the state is that we are lacking uniformity in the way we provide conflict of interest and freedom of information training to government officials, which has led to inconsistent practices, misunderstandings and litigation.
“It is my hope that these additional resources and this additional training will also serve to reduce the likelihood of litigation and will allow local governments to commit more time and resources to the provision of government services. I hope that this helps better explain my purpose and motivation in filing these bills.
“If you have any questions or want to discuss these issues any further, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”
In his letter to Obenshain, Goff had made clear: “As I understand it, the push for prohibiting dual jobs . . . comes from a little group of citizens in Rappahannock County who claim that [COIA] is not being enforced by me.
“The complaining group is composed of individual members who are engaged as plaintiffs in several lawsuits alleging violations of FOIA in the summer of 2016 (before I was County Attorney) and several more cases involving FOIA and COIA claims against the Board [of Supervisors], several members and against me.”
“In summary,” Goff concluded, “you are being asked to support a provision in this bill that would overturn at least one hundred years of tradition in Rappahannock County, deprive the Board [of Supervisors] of its chosen counselor, impose significant additional costs upon taxpayers, reward dirty politics, and still get no prosecution of the so-called violations, all because the Rappahannock County [BOS] voted lawfully in open meeting after much debate to defend itself against a spurious lawsuit brought by this same little group.”