The Blog Squad

Friday, December 30, 2005

Brace yourself. Here comes the real sex scandal...


We may be about to see a real sex scandal unfold with the news that Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Barber has been arrested for sexual battery of a minor. If you remember about a year ago, Barber was the Crenshaw Elementary teacher who was suspended when parents alleged that they walked in on Barber and some kindergarten students in the school's gym and some of the children were massaging his shoulders. At the time it was really a "What do we make of this?" kind of story. You could see it from either side. I imagine I would have had the same horrified reaction as a parent, but I also know how affectionate the little ones can be with their teachers and how easily an innocent gesture could be misconstrued.

Police have made sure to say that this case Barber has been arrested for has nothing at all to do with any student at Crenshaw. But that old story is floating out there now like a cloud over these new charges. Might this be another case of an innocent gesture being misconstrued? How unlucky could one guy be?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Poor Beave ...

A moment of silence for the Lewis Ginter beaver please.

Now, let's all come to our senses. I, as much as anyone, hate to think of one of God's creatures being unceremoniously whacked among the Christmas lights, but Lewis Ginter did what it had to do. It seems like they did everything they could to relocate the beaver. Even state game officials say that to release it into the wild was most likely to condemn it to a crueler death. You had one rocket scientist in the Times-Dispatch's Your Two Cents section acknowledging that state officials said not to move it but "too bad -- do it anyway." Yes, let's let the poor thing die a prolonged death of stress and starvation because of our guilt over shooting it.

Lewis Ginter had to protect its property. What would you all do if squirrels were tearing up your attic or termites were eating away at your house's foundation? More to the point, what should the art museum do if mice were gnawing at precious works of art? Plants and trees and flora and fauna of every type are Lewis Ginter's raison d'etre. This beaver alone was said to have done $25,000 in damage to the gardens.

The Lewis Ginter beaver was like a death-row inmate who becomes a cause celebre. Are PETA or the SPCA's Robin Starr out there protesting every time the USDA kills one of the 300 or so nuisance beavers it does each year in Virginia?

But even PETA didn't come down on Lewis Ginter as stridently as it usually does. The group acknowledged a gunshot was the most humane way to dispatch the creature but asked the botanical gardens to portion off some of its property just for beavers. In a statement, the garden replied that such a move would be "comparable to asking a homeowner to establish a niche for termites." Touche.

Still, the ball is now in Lewis Ginter's court to fence off the area near the lake where the beavers gained entrance to the gardens. They have to do everything in their power to make sure it doesn't keep happening.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Who is Richmond's sexiest news anchor? No, really...

I'm a few days behind this major story, so forgive me. WRVQ listeners have voted WRIC's John Bernier and Dawn Davenport as Richmond's Sexiest News Anchors! Now, aside from the fact that even holding a sexiest news anchor contest should make about as much sense as voting for Funniest State Employee or Richmond Waitress with the Straightest Teeth, the sad fact is that it does make a certain kind of sense, doesn't it? Nobody really wants unattractive people delivering their news, do they? And if they must, they can write for the newspaper or in magazine columns.

And so I find myself caught between loathing the idea and joining in. John Bernier? Really? Now, there is nothing at all particularly unsexy about John Bernier. He's a perfectly nice-looking guy. But out of all the Richmond news anchors, John Bernier is the hottie? Take a little spin around the news channels' Web sites (links below) and let me know who you would vote for* if, you know, you weren't officially offended by the idea to begin with.

WRIC Anchors

WWBT Anchors

WTVR Anchors

*My vote goes to Channel 12's Aaron Gilchrist.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Short Pump vs. Stony Point

On the day after Christmas there isn't much to talk about really. AOL, for instance, has as its banner news story — "He's Blind, and He Golfs. How does Zohar Sharon do it?" But one little item in the paper today did catch my eye, on a topic I hear a lot of people (OK, mostly women) talking about: Short Pump vs. Stony Point.

In a piece today about the ups and downs of the local business community this past year, the Times-Dispatch's MetroBusiness section dubbed Short Pump Town Center an unequivocal UP, with the paper citing a 16.6 percent increase in sales in the first half of the year compared with the same time frame in 2004. Stony Point Fashion Park was labeled DOWN or FLAT, with sales falling more than 12 percent in the first six months of 2005. Since malls don't give out sales figures, these numbers are usually determined by looking at sales-tax information. A representative of the company that owns Stony Point disputed the T-D's figures saying, "We are very satisfied with our results at Stony Point." Not exactly effusive enthusiasm.

I would assume the bigger Short Pump Town Center would rack up larger sales but I wonder what explains the dip for Stony Point. What do you all think of these outdoor malls? What I find interesting is that time and time again I hear people say how much they love Stony Point — it's comfortable and very conducive to strolling. It has some great stores — Sur La Table, Anthropologie, Saks Fifth Avenue, Restoration Hardware — yet it also has a low-key, low-stress feel. Could that be part of the problem? Do people just like to hang out there and not actually spend money?

Short Pump, on the other hand, I have heard described as overwhelming, too big, too much. Still, it has the stores a lot of people want: Crate & Barrel, the Apple store, Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids, Nordstrom and some great local retailers like Soak!, Saxon Shoes and the venerable Schwarzschild Jewelers.

So what is it? Do we like to stroll one and shop the other? Can they both succeed or is it inevitable that one will stamp out the other? Let's hope this town is big enough for the both of them, unlike the two sheriffs ...

Friday, December 23, 2005

I couldn't say it any better than Charles Dickens ... obviously

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"*

Whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the miracle of lights or the principles of unity this season I wish you safe travels, low stress, a rollicking good time and above all, abundant peace and joy. Talk to you next week.

*This is my favorite passage from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I finished my shopping! And, oh yeah, a word about Michelle Mitchell...

Sorry I'm late today but I've been out wrapping up the last of my Christmas shopping. I always like to do one last shop in Carytown. In particular, I had fun shopping for my sister, wholly rejecting her wishlist, which is filled with items she herself has prioritized as "low." One CD, in fact, rates "lowest" on her priority list. Now tell me, what fun can you possibly have buying something for a person when she herself can muster no enthusiasm for it? I might as well walk into a Barnes & Noble, throw a dart and give her that. Oooh, sorry, Joan, you got the Diabetic Cookbook. Not this year! She may not love everything I got her, but she will at least be surprised.

Anyway, I had nothing urgent on my mind today other than the latest zany episode of She's the Sheriff starring Michelle Mitchell. And truly, what can I even add? Is it just me or does this woman act exactly like a cornered, feral cat? She's either the world's biggest paranoid or Woody is right in his assertion that she's absolutely corrupt and hiding something. Perhaps we will find out when Sheriff Woody finally rides in to the rescue. (If he ever gets in, that is. I am imagining Mitchell waving her pistol out of a jail window — "You'll never take me alive! Ha ha ha ha!!!!!")

One last thing about my shopping excursion today. At Ten Thousand Villages there were these little polished stones from India etched with LOVE, WISDOM or PEACE for $2. The LOVE and WISDOM baskets were full but there wasn't a PEACE to be found. People, it seems, are clamoring for peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On the T-D's explanation, the pastors' capitulation and Goldman's vacation...

Well, we got the closest thing to an explanation from the T-D on the Johnson story. It was an Editor's Note tacked onto the end of a letter to the editor ripping into the paper for running the story. It was a terse, boilerplate explanation:

News Department editors respond: The article was written because the School Board chairman is a public official who makes decisions that affect thousands of children. The Board sets policy related to both student and employee behavior.

Hmmm. What that explanation does not address is why the T-D chose to reveal this about Johnson at all. In no story it's run so far have I seen any reference to a Board policy that Johnson violated. In fact, the only way that his action has affected students (and you can very reasonably argue that it has now) is because it was made public. And that was the T-D's doing and no one else's. Had the posting and rumors of it been swirling through the community prior to the story I think it would have been a legitimate story. Still, putting it on A-1 was over the top. (Just like their customer service!)

Meanwhile, Richmond's God Squad — hellbent, so to speak, last week on removing Johnson — had a change of heart after, you know, actually meeting the man. This after they mean-spiritedly circulated copies of a supposed second posting of Johnson's, which he vehemently denies he did. (Anybody remember the Eighth Commandment?) Oops, they said, our bad! So sorry. They said they do appreciate Johnson's work* and will continue to help him and pray with him. Thanks so much.

*They wanted to make darn sure though that people do not think they actually respect Johnson. A correction ran today regarding yesterday's headline: "Pastors say they respect Johnson" saying the headline "overstated [the ministers'] sentiments about Johnson."

* * *

Oh, one more quick thing on another topic: Paul Goldman's suspension. The way I figure it, at $145,000 a year, Goldman brings in roughly $2,700 a week with benefits. His services cost the Tim Kaine campaign $15,000. That's about five and half weeks of his salary and he just received a six-week suspension. So basically, he got a six-week vacation courtesy of Tim Kaine!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Please, Mommy, buy me some books! I want to be just like Paris Hilton!

You know that weird half-dream/half-awake state you are in when your alarm clock goes off and your brain incorporates what you hear on the radio into the dream you are already having? There must be a word or phrase for that. (Any suggestions, you clever wordsmiths? Reveridio? Radio Eye Movement?) That's what happened to me this morning when our alarm clock went off at about 6:25 a.m. and I started dreaming about gold-plated chocolates, which may or may not have been an actual topic of conversation between morning DJs Jack and Linda.

If you are like me, as you start to wake up just a tiny bit you hear things that make no sense whatsoever:

".... the greatest polka hits of The Clash."
"I-95 shut down when a swarm of tree frogs ..."
"Tom Cruise will marry Katie Holmes next year ..."

So I'm assuming that's what my brain was doing this morning when the news person started talking about a program for kids that may or may not have been called Reading, Writing and Limos. It rewards kids who improve their reading skills with a ride in a limo. Pretty cool. But then they quoted the program's spokesperson, who may or may not truly have been named Betsy Ross — remember, I'm still technically sleeping — as saying (as best as my sleeping brain can reconstruct): "We want kids to know that if they are good readers they can become a celebrity."

See? I surely got that all mixed up in my dreamy state. Obviously, she must have said something like, "We want kids to know that if they are good readers the potential for success is unlimited in whatever career they choose, be it education or public service, science or business, or even the arts and entertainment."

If anyone at B103 is reading this, feel free to correct me on that quote. I must have gotten it wrong ... right?

Oh my God!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Finally! Some answers from the T-D...

Well, I finally got a nice big helping of information from the T-D in yesterday's Home Page section, in which the paper dissects itself each Sunday. The column is designed to serve readers better by providing insight into news coverage decisions and other areas of the paper. Yesterday I learned:

  1. The paper is getting a new phone system!
  2. Each employee will record a new voice-mail greeting.
  3. The downtown and Hanover offices will be getting lobby makeovers, complete with electronic boards showing award-winning photographs and editorial cartoons!
  4. Each month, the T-D names a Customer Champion of the Month, an employee caught "doing something right."
  5. The paper has a Customer Action Team whose objective is "defining and refining customer service. ... This action team is also digging deeper, prioritizing objectives, interviewing colleagues, and reviewing departmental processes -- wrapped up in the rallying call of 'think like customers.'"
  6. The T-D is committed to "over-the-top" customer service.

Wow. That's quite a bit of information to digest and answers so many of my burning questions about the inner workings of the Times-Dispatch. But I did have another important question, I think. Now, what was that again?...

Friday, December 16, 2005

If you want to feel reeeeally close to Mark Warner...

Having trouble coming up with the perfect stocking stuffer for the newly upbeat Virginia Democrat on your Christmas list? How about the Mark Warner for President thong? offers a wide array of Warner items including infant creepers, dog shirts and the aforementioned intimate item (stamped "Made in the USA" next to the picture) in support of our outgoing governor for president in 2008 . Over at you can get your basic buttons, t-shirts and bumperstickers with a nifty little shooting star (or is it a rising star?) over Warner's name. Just further evidence that you can't swing a Republican by his silk tie without hitting an optimistic Virginia Democrat.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Suddenly, the T-D is mum on Johnson

This Johnson story continues to get more interesting. Now Style is reporting that Johnson does not believe it to be politically motivated while at least one rumor out there contradicts that. What was not said today in the Times-Dispatch I find even more interesting. Ross Mackenzie's column was actually about one thing today, public officials behaving badly — namely, Michelle "MissBuns" Mitchell, Paul "That'll be $15,000 please" Goldman and William "Some of my best friends are mush" Cooper.

Notice anyone missing?

It was such a glaring omission given the amount of space the T-D has given the Johnson story. And if the T-D didn't think that Johnson "behaved badly" why run the story to begin with? That brings up what I wanted to get to today anyway — the paper's role in this whole story. You could certainly argue that the some of the private affairs of public figures are fair game. Years ago, we took a lot — a lot — of heat at Style for printing a story about former Mayor Leonidas Young and his penile implant. But that was part of public record in a lawsuit listing various items he purchased with money he allegedly had bilked out of congregants of his church. It was an unfortunate embarrassment that it was a penile implant and not, say, LASIK eye surgery, but we went with that story and I still think it was the right decision. The Steve Johnson story, though, I have a very hard time arguing from a journalistic perspective — especially its placement as a A-1 story at least three times since it broke.

What do you all think? Should the T-D have run with this story based on what we know, especially if the informants are unknown to the T-D? If yes, should it have been given the play it was given?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Outed, but not ousted...

OK, the gay part. Personally, I cannot believe for a second that this would have been the story it was were it not for the fact that Johnson was "trolling" (that's such a Ross Mackenzie word, don't you think?) on a gay Web site. But the flipside is — and I'm not the only one to point this out* — that Johnson's sexual orientation may have helped him in the aftermath. Can you possibly imagine a standing ovation at the School Board meeting or outpouring of public support if he'd been "trolling" for ladies? He would have been a tacky embarrassment that colleagues would've wanted to steer clear of. Now, he seems to be some kind of symbol. And if he had been a straight guy trolling for ladies, would area ministers be organizing against him trying to oust him?

And as for the posting itself: I complained in my first post on the story (out of frustration as a straight supporter of gay rights) that it figured — it just figured that it had to be an over-the-top pornographic site that exactly represents the stereotype that all gay men are sex-crazed. But — and here's a question I ask quite sincerely — if I were to start checking out "gay internet dating Web sites" would that be the general tone of most of them? Is that really what straight dating sites are like?

*The T-D columnists finally break their silence after more than a week! Mark Holmberg wrote about it today, asking some of the same questions we've been asking here since the story broke. But when, if ever, will the T-D's editors explain why this was an A-1 story?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Do you have some more to say about the Johnson story? Here's your chance

From the number of comments I continue to get on the Johnson post from last week, it's obvious you all still have a lot to say on this topic. So maybe we should take it apart piece by piece starting with my good friend Anonymous' point about public vs. private life. I called Johnson's action stupid. He called it stupid. Some of you took offense to that but the question remains: Must a person in Johnson's position — an elected official — sacrifice the right to certain private behaviors if he or she wants to pursue a life of public service? If corporations and entertainment enterprises can include morals clauses in employee contracts, why can't the public, so to speak? Or does every American have absolute right to privacy in behavior that is completely legal?
(Next, we'll take on how the gay aspect affected the story and Times-Dispatch's role in all this, but for now, one thing at a time...)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bumper sticker sticks it to Chesterfield government

I saw an interesting bumper sticker the other day that I wanted to share with you. This comes on the heels of Chesterfield County changing its public meeting policy to suspend county audio and video taping of meetings and call a recess if the meetings get too heated. County Administrator Lane B. Ramsey said the policy is in place to "de-escalate any situation." Others have called it censorship.

Back in October a citizen was removed from a Planning Commission meeting and subsequently arrested when he strayed from the topic at hand to complain about new homes in the Tarrington subdivsion being built on old coalmines.

Anyway, back to the bumper sticker. It was on a beaten-up, rusted-out Isuzu pickup. The old guy driving it looked like he knew every back road of the county. And on the back was the bumper sticker: "My opinion of Chesterfield County Government" ... and a hammer and sickle. That bumper sticker looked like it had been attached since before the rust set in and surely before this latest uproar. What is it about Chesterfield County government that evokes this reaction? I moved here from the city only a year ago, so I admit to not having followed county government that closely. You can bet I will now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Personnel Rooster! The perfect gift for the executive on your list!

The Personnel Rooster. This proud blue red Dutch bantam rooster handles all your recruitment, maintains employee files, allots vacation and holiday time and explains complex health-care benefits with simple-to-understand clucks. Crows on the billable hour. $69.95 from the Sharper Image.

Also available: the Standard Operating Procedures Manuel.

If you have no idea what this is about, go here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Now that Johnson has stepped aside, will we hear any explanation from the T-D?

I nearly choked on my coffee yesterday when I read the T-D's editorial about the Stephen Johnson story. "Had School Board chairman Stephen Johnson gone trolling for companionship in a Richmond nightclub, few would have noticed or cared. Now he stands mortified for having the poor judgment to advertise himself on a Web site graphically explicit about the nature of what so many who go trolling seek. ..." What the T-D editorial writers fail to acknowledge is their own paper's leading role in this story. When are we going to hear the paper's explanation for running that story? My guess is Louise Seals will write something in Sunday's paper, at least that's my hope. I want to hear the justification for running it.

Mrs. Seals, if you are reading this, here are the questions I think people would like answered:
  1. What was your reasoning for going with this story?
  2. What made it an A-1 story?
  3. Would the paper have run the story if it had been a straight Web site? Did you talk about that in your discussions about the story?
  4. Was there much discussion about it? Was there strong opposition to running it?
  5. Did the person or persons who tipped you off give you their names? Did you take into consideration their motives?
Johnson, meanwhile, resigned his chairmanship but kept his 5th District seat on the board. He knows he did a stupid thing; he acknowledges it and takes full responsibility. Is the T-D ready to acknowledge its poor news judgment and take responsibility? As for the person or persons who set this ball rolling by tipping off the T-D — surely, we will never hear any acknowledgements from such cowards.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

More thoughts on the Johnson story

Some more thoughts on this Stephen Johnson story. There is no doubt in my mind that the guy used lousy judgment in posting to that Web site, but the judgment I really call into question here is the news judgment of the Times-Dispatch. Think about it. They’ve got allegations of sexual harassment against a high school principal. Bigger still, they’ve got the current sheriff refusing to allow the newly-elected sheriff access to the jail. Michelle Mitchell is also denying the mayor’s independent jail panel access to the jail, the staff and department documents. These stories run on B-1. But the Johnson story is A-1, top of the fold, in the same spot that the day before was occupied by a picture of the president and a story about a major speech on the war in Iraq. The second day story on Johnson runs in the same place. What's beneath the fold? Ten Marines killed in Iraq.
What is going on here? Johnson did not break any laws and there is nothing to suggest that his personal life has had any effect on his job at School Board chief. Why did it receive this level of attention? Would it have been A-1 news if he’d posted something “very graphic” on a straight Web site?
Believe me, I am making no apologies for him. I think it was idiotic to post on that site from a political perspective. But here is my point: It does not matter to me and probably most people what public officials do in their private lives, but these things continue to make their way into legitimate news stories. Johnson was probably guilty of being naive more than anything, to think that there's no one out there trying to trip him up. And shame on the T-D for taking the bait. Did they sit in their newsroom debating the relevance of this information to Johnson's job as School Board chief? And would they have run it or played it as big if it had been a straight Web site?

Friday, December 02, 2005

School Board chief apparently gay, definitely stupid

Whoa. Rough week for Richmond Public Schools. Like they don't have enough work to do with, well, everything, but now they've got scandal to deal with too. Let's dispense with the boring one first. The principal of Armstrong High School, Carl S. Vaughan, has been placed on administrative leave because of sexual-harassment accusations. I am not making light of these serious charges at all, but compared to the scandal on A-1 of the paper today — well, sexual harassment seems so ... '90s.

The bigger story is that School Board Chairman Stephen B. Johnson (whose face you know from seeing it pretty much every night on the news commenting about some school story) has acknowledged posting an ad for himself on, described by the paper as a "male-dating" Internet site. The rest of us call that "gay."

Johnson was apparently bare-chested in the photo of himself, which was accompanied by, again quoting from the T-D, "very graphic" text describing himself. His post is already down, but if you check out the site you'll see what they were talking about.

Johnson called it "stupid" to post on the site. Um, stupid is a good start. Completely irresponsible, reckless and without regard to his very public position would be another way to put it. Look, I don't care about the gayness, but this is a community leader we are talking about! School Board member Reginald Malone really summed it up in his almost speechless comment in the newspaper: "This is a shame. ... A person is free to do whatever they want to do, but when you're a public official that's all open to the public ... This just floors me."

And another thing ...

This is exactly the stuff that gives people the ammunition they need to paint all gay people as sex-crazed maniacs who are ushering in the fall of civilization. And truthfully, take a little tour of the site — it's full of sex-crazed maniacs! Meanwhile, here's Johnson, a successful, articulate community leader and owner of an antiques gallery. An antiques gallery! How hard can it be to meet a nice, eligible gay man when you own an antiques gallery? So why post to a site like this unless you're a sex-crazed maniac?

See what I mean by giving people ammunition?

I don't know what the Board is going to do about Johnson but it sure seems like this could be his political end. Hopefully, not because of his apparently being gay, but because of his colossally poor judgment.