Week in Review: A farmer, FOIA and the feds

By Kaitlyn Speer | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

Feds reward Virginia for botching least food stamp funds

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Virginia farmer tore up Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s latest deal with a Chinese paper plant, competing interests could clash as the state reviews its FOIA exemptions, and the federal government rewarded Virginia for screwing up less food stamp payments than any other state in 2013. This is your week in review:

Virginia farmer tears up Tranlin paper deal

A leader in Virginia’s “sustainable agriculture” movement says an incoming Chinese paper-and-fertilizer plant is anything but.

And he accuses politicians of squandering tax dollars on the venture.

“To use taxpayer funding to attract a business predicated fundamentally on an anti-ecology premise indicates both political and societal rape of nature’s template,” Joel Salatin said.

Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley, said plans by Tranlin Inc. to convert farm field “waste” into paper and fertilizer go against the grain of long-term land use.

“In a properly functioning agricultural system, wheat straw, peanut hulls and corn fodder would never be a ‘waste stream.’ Nature intends this carbon to feed the soil on site, either through direct residue application or via compost as livestock bedding,” Salatin said.

Competing interests bound to clash as state reviews FOIA exemptions

Elsewhere in Virginia, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is scrutinizing more than 100 exemptions listed in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The goal is to ensure transparency in government, according to George Whitehurst, the leader of one of the two FOIA subcommittees and communications and public relations manager for the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Still, while everyone on the FOIA council — members of the media, business and government communities — professes the same goal of transparency, competing interests between government representatives who keep those records, and those in the open government community who want those records, are bound to clash.

Feds reward Virginia for botching least food stamp funds

Virginia was also rewarded with $1.7 million this week for not screwing up as terribly as every other state in 2013.

The state botched less food stamp funds than any other state — either overpaying or underpaying .44 percent of the $1.4 billion (about $6 million) it issued. This was an improvement from the 1.76 percent of payments Virginia overpaid or underpaid the previous year. The state received a performance bonus then, too.

Roughly 1 million Virginians — more than 1 in 10 — are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

“This award underscores Virginia’s dedication to serving those in need throughout the commonwealth while ensuring a high level of program integrity,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

Of course, Virginians are still helping foot the more than $2 billion in overpayments nationally that the country issued in 2013. And payment error rates have nothing to do with fraud. That’s another statistic entirely, one that isn’t quite as easy to track.

McAuliffe picks GreenTech funder for lottery

The governor also named a director of GreenTech Automotive’s funding arm to be deputy chief of the Virginia Lottery.

More importantly, the appointment of Randy Wright comes a year after a federal investigation began into Gulf Coast Funds Management and money raised for the electric-car company McAuliffe founded in 2009.

Wright, of Norfolk, sits on Gulf Coast’s three-member board, though McAuliffe’s announcement did not mention that fact.

Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s younger brother, is president and CEO of Gulf Coast, which shares McLean, Va., executive offices with GreenTech.

“I’m starting to wonder if the FBI is going to be able to keep up with all these appointments that Terry McAuliffe is making,” said Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Kaitlyn Speer is an intern for Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau. She can be reached at kspeer@watchdog.org or on twitter at @KSpeer11.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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