PWC Logo and FOIA Request

June 21, 2013

Over the last few weeks, there has been a substantial amount of media attention devoted to the issue about the new county logo and the process that was used to obtain and implement the logo.

The understanding of the majority of the Board was that this logo would be used solely by the Economic Development Department.  However, we quickly realized that this logo had been implemented in a much broader way, mostly without the approval or knowledge of the majority of the Board.

A few weeks ago at a Board meeting, Supervisor Jenkins led the way, questioning the process the County Executive and her staff had used in obtaining and implementing the new logo.  From the very beginning, Mr. Jenkins correctly identified that somewhere along the line, the process broke down.

When looking at the grand scheme of the county budget, the cost of a logo is relatively small.  We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year in county services and for the most part, everything runs extremely well.   It would be easy to just ignore when problems arise in our government and just bury our heads in the sand.  But that is not what I was elected to do.

My colleague Supervisor Jenkins was absolutely right when he pointed out that the logo and its costs were secondary to the far more important issues of (1) was there accountability in the spending of county funds, and (2) whether the decision about the deployment of the new logo was properly handled by county employees.

At a recent Board meeting, we discussed these issues more in-depth.  I was very concerned as the responses we received as a Board from the county staff and County Executive were sometimes inconsistent with previous statements.

When the Board asked about the development of a new logo, and how much the total costs were, the answer was that it cost only $750.

But a couple of weeks later, when presented with information provided by a citizen showing that other work had been done, the County Executive’s staff informed us there was a second firm retained to develop another set of logos at a cost of over $12,000.  Two firms hired to develop logos – why wasn’t this information disclosed to the Board from the very beginning?

As troubling as that was, I was even more alarmed to learn that both firms used in the development of these logos were based outside of Prince William County and that with one of the contracts, no Prince William County firm was even invited to bid.

This is concerning to me due to the mere fact that the mission of the Prince William County Office of Economic Development consists of two elements:

  1. To attract new businesses and grow the commercial tax base in the county; and
  2. To support existing businesses and promote their goods and services.

As a county government, we should be doing all we legally can to promote and build the economy here in Prince William County.  It sends a poor message to potential businesses who are considering moving to the county that once they are here, we are not fully behind them.

In the end, the questions raised from these discussions were serious enough that the Board agreed to hold a “work session” on July 16 to explore the topics further.

In preparation for that meeting, I prepared a set of questions and requests for documents that would help the Board members get a better understanding of the facts with the contracts and clear up the contradictions made by county staffers.  My request provided county staff with over two weeks to obtain the information for the Board.

What happened next stunned me.

Two Supervisors objected to having the staff provide this information.

This procedural objection led the County Attorney to advise me that I could either present a resolution to the Board to approve the release of the requested information, or I could convert my request for information into a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

If I waited to bring my request before the Board, valuable time would be wasted that could be spent examining the documents and asking any additional follow-up questions.

So I was left with the only viable option – I had to convert my inquiry into a FOIA request.

The County Attorney informed me that I would have to pay for the FOIA costs, costs that I now know would be between $350 and $500.  That information was equally stunning to me given that I needed this information to fulfill my duties as Supervisor.

As I saw it, the policy of requiring an elected official to file a FOIA request in order to perform their duties sets a very dangerous precedent – one that could have a chilling effect over our whole form of county government.  Restricting access to information from any duly elected Supervisor and preventing the proper exercise of oversight is unacceptable.

Fortunately, during our last meeting, the majority of my colleagues agreed with me and I am extremely grateful for their support.

Now that I’m receiving the information without a FOIA, I believe it will help resolve those lingering questions about the logo controversy, and help us to reform the procurement process moving forward.

I take the responsibility the people of the Gainesville District have entrusted in me very seriously.   Over the last 18 months, I have worked diligently to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent appropriately, that your taxes are as low as possible, and that we continue to reduce the footprint of government in all of our lives.

I want Prince William County businesses to grow and thrive.  That starts with the county making a concentrated effort to allow local businesses the opportunity to compete for all contracts.

I am grateful for your overwhelming support and I will continue to fight for responsible, accountable government.