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NORFOLK — Virginia’s commitment to invest in educating high-tech talent won the sweepstakes for Amazon’s second headquarters a year ago, but now some big bills are coming due in the next state budget to help public colleges and universities deliver on the promise.
The $1.1 billion, 20-year plan will require an additional $30.4 million in the two-year budget that Gov. Ralph Northam will present next month, on top of $16.6 million in annual funding already assumed in the budget.
The state money will go to at least 11 higher-education institutions to add at least 31,000 degrees in computer sciences and related fields to feed graduates into the “tech talent investment pipeline” that was central to the Amazon deal.
At the same time, the institutions are seeking more than $108 million in capital funding, primarily for construction of facilities at George Mason University’s planned new computing and digital learning campus in Arlington County for graduate-level degree programs in high-tech fields.
The university, based in Fairfax, has to match the state investment with its own money, just as Virginia Tech does for $168 million in the current budget to build an innovation campus for graduate programs in Alexandria.
Finally, colleges and universities are seeking about $27 million of capital investments for equipment to support bachelor’s production at 11 institutions that have signed agreements with the state to deliver their share of graduates with skills sought by Amazon and other technology companies in Virginia.
Agreements also are expected with the Virginia Community College System, Longwood University, the University of Virginia at Wise and University of Mary Washington.
“As far as we know, no other state is proposing anything like this,” said Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which fashioned the Amazon incentive package with state and General Assembly officials. “It’s very novel.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, one of the architects of the package, expressed some skepticism at the committee’s annual budget retreat that the state is trying to spread the money too broadly.
He also questioned whether GMU, in particular, will be able to raise the philanthropic funds necessary to match the state’s promised contribution of $125 million for the university’s share of new graduate degrees. Virginia Tech also must match the state’s $250 million share of its new campus.
“There’s no required money up front?” Jones asked Moret.
The economic development leader answered that the state does not require the two institutions to produce matching funds up front, but they have a 10-year window to raise the money or eventually lose a portion of the state’s share.
In an interview, Moret expressed confidence in the ability of both Tech and GMU to raise the money. “There’s so much energy in this space, I think they both are going to hit their philanthropic targets,” he said.
Jones, who lost his re-election bid two weeks ago, has made clear before that he prefers the state to target the institutions with the most ability to step up degree production in computer sciences by “repurposing” state funds they already have for other degree programs.
Only the University of Virginia proposed a plan that doesn’t add new graduates but instead would produce an additional 3,416 bachelor’s degrees in those fields over the next 20 years by shifting students from other degree programs.
UVA’s commitment is second only to Virginia Tech, which must produce an additional 5,911 degrees on top of what it’s already doing. However, the state is pledging $295 million to Tech and $33.1 million to UVA.
The other institutions, including Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University, are looking to expand the existing number of graduates to produce more degrees in those fields, which will cost them more, he said.
The state negotiated deals with Tech, UVA and the College of William & Mary with higher targets — up to 75% growth in degrees in the next 20 years over their current levels — than other institutions, whose growth goals range from 37.1% to 22.9% above their baselines now.
Beyond the $2.5 billion capital investment and 25,000 new jobs promised by Amazon at its new headquarters in Arlington, the payoff for Virginia is producing skilled workers for technology companies that Moret called the state’s “single biggest traded-sector employment growth opportunity, by far.”
“The demand is there now,” he said. “The demand for talent is tremendous. We don’t want to slow it down.”
NORFOLK — With Virginia’s public mental hospitals in crisis, Gov. Ralph Northam has chosen a leader of a private, nonprofit health system here as the state’s next commissioner of behavioral health and developmental services.
Alison Land, vice president of behavioral health services at Sentara Healthcare, will become commissioner in mid-December. That is the month before the General Assembly begins to grapple with legislative and budget solutions to overcrowding of state hospitals as the “bed of last resort” for involuntarily detained patients in psychiatric emergencies.
Land, 54, who has spent more than 20 years in behavioral health management here and her native Georgia, will fill a void created by the death of Dr. Hughes Melton on Aug. 2 after a fatal three-car wreck in Augusta County. Chief Deputy Commissioner Mira Signer has filled the job on an interim basis since Melton’s death and will return to her previous position.
“Choosing a new commissioner is not something we expected to have to do,” said Alena Yarmosky, spokeswoman for Northam.
The commissioner will manage a complex system of state institutions for people with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities, while attempting to shift state investments to community-based programs and care in partnership with local and regional behavioral health agencies and private providers.
The state has been forced to put more money in state institutions that are operating near and, in some cases, beyond their operating capacity because of a surge in temporary detention orders. Lawmakers adopted legislation in 2014 that requires the public hospitals to admit people who pose a danger to themselves or others and cannot find timely care elsewhere.
“We have to treat this as a crisis,” said Dr. Dan Carey, secretary of health and human resources. “It really is a crisis at state hospitals.”
State officials put part of the blame on private hospital systems that have taken a shrinking share of patients under temporary detention orders since the so-called “bed of last resort” law, although they still accept about three-quarters of people detained involuntarily for psychiatric treatment.
They hope that Land will help find a solution because of her background in private health care systems and former role as chairwoman of the behavioral health committee for the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.
“We’re really excited about Alison’s collaborative leadership style,” said Carey, a former cardiologist and executive at Centra Health in Lynchburg.
In an interview, Land said she knows the people with stakes in the system and fixing its flaws. “It’s going to take building relationships and trust with some of the parties,” she said. “That’s been part of the issue.”
Julian Walker, vice president of communications at the hospital association, called Land’s hiring “an inspired choice.”
“Her experience with Sentara Healthcare as a health system leader focused on behavioral health will be an asset to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services as the agency continues the important work of system improvement to better meet the unique treatment needs of Virginians,” Walker said.
Sentara operates two inpatient behavioral health facilities at Norfolk General Hospital, as well as psychiatric units at hospitals in Virginia Beach, Suffolk and Harrisonburg. It operates outpatient programs in South Boston, Virginia Beach and Harrisonburg; a medical detoxification facility in South Boston; and a telepsychiatry center in Virginia Beach.
It owns a managed care company, Optima Health, that serves people with behavioral health problems, including those covered by the state’s Medicaid program.
“She is just a wealth of knowledge about how to manage complex organizations,” Yarmosky said.
Land said she understands many of the issues facing public mental hospitals because private psychiatric facilities have the same challenges — increasingly violent patients who assault staff and other patients, and a shortage of doctors and direct-care staff to handle a rising volume of people with behavioral health problems.
“There are going to be solutions we will find together,” she said.
The challenges became clearer in a report the Office of the State Inspector General released on Monday. It found in unannounced inspections at state mental hospitals over almost two years that many institutions don’t have policies limiting mandatory overtime for nurses and other direct-care staff.
The report also finds that a number of hospitals — including Central State Hospital near Petersburg and Eastern State Hospital near Williamsburg — had shifts that were not properly staffed, and some were not able to provide logs documenting shift staffing. It also found inadequate cross-training of hospital staff to serve people with widely varying problems.
The department pushed back against some of the report findings and recommendations, but Carey said generally they reflect the pressures building on a hospital system that is operating at more than 96% of its capacity.
“We’re committed to working with the General Assembly to see how we can remedy the situation,” he said. “We need to make sure our state facilities are adequately staffed and, most important, that patients get the care they deserve.”
Land met with senior leadership at the department on Tuesday and plans to begin visiting state institutions after Thanksgiving. She plans to be a highly visible leader for employees who are demoralized by the pressures on the hospitals and the uncertainty in leadership after Melton’s death.
“They’re going to be fine,” she said. “They may need to learn that they’re going to be fine.”
Land also will have to fill at least one vacancy in her leadership team with the resignation last week of Daniel Herr, deputy commissioner for facility services and the department’s point man on dealing with the hospital crisis.
Herr has not spoken publicly about his plan to leave the department in mid-December and state officials have declined to comment on it. “He has his reasons,” Carey said.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, chairman of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, said he hopes that bringing someone from outside the state system with private experience will help bring the competing interests together on a solution.
“All you can do is be an optimist at this point,” Deeds said.
Carol Blaylock was dumbfounded to learn this week that she and about 240 other former employees abruptly laid off in June from their jobs at Henrico County-based Colortree Group might be getting some lost wages.
“I was totally surprised. I thought it was a dead issue. I didn’t expect to hear anything more about it,” Blaylock said.
The bankruptcy court-appointed trustee overseeing the now-defunct Colortree Group’s affairs has proposed putting $500,000 into a pool of money to pay the former employees who were let go from the printing company without the required federal 60-day termination notice. The trustee last week filed the proposed plan, which would settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the workers.
The deal needs approval from U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Keith L. Phillips, who has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 5.
If approved then, the employees could receive their money in late December. Exactly how much each worker might get hasn’t been determined.
“I figured it would be years from now,” said Blaylock, the company’s former director of imagination who now is a freelance graphic designer. “I never expected to hear anything this quickly or hear anything at all.”
After operating for more than 30 years printing direct-mail envelopes, flyers and brochures, Colortree abruptly closed its offices and plant at 8000 Villa Park Drive. The company was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in September. Its equipment and other assets were sold at auction in September.
Peter J. Barrett, the court-appointed trustee who is an attorney in the Richmond law office of Kutak Rock, devised a deal to pay the employees now before the case is finalized. The employees are creditors in the bankruptcy case.
The settlement agreement, he said, is a reasonable deal that is in the best interest of the company, its creditors and former employees. Doing a deal so quickly and early in a liquidation case should provide a greater return to the creditors, he said.
Besides, possibly getting former employees their money by the end of the year — maybe before Christmas — influenced the outcome, Barrett said.
“Certainly that played a factor in the decision,” he said about employees getting their money before the holiday.
“We were not going to compromise our position for the sake of speed or for a lower dollar amount,” he said.
“We wanted to be able to do a deal and wanted to get the money out to the employees quickly. We teed this up as quickly as we could,” Barrett said. “When you are able to find leverage in a case to provide a positive return to creditors, that is always good news.”
The resolution has been very quick, said Jack A. Raisner, a partner with the New York-based Outten & Golden LLP law firm that represents the employees in the class-action lawsuit. Lawyers from the Richmond-based Spotts Fain PC firm also are representing the employees.
“This is exceptional under these circumstances,” Raisner said. “We have similar cases started around the same time that are nowhere near to any kind of resolution or not even in sight or close to one. A lot of stars were aligned here in favor of a quick outcome.”
How much each employee will receive isn’t known.
The money, Raisner said, will be divided fairly among the 240 employees.
“All of the details still have to be worked out,” Raisner said. “There are a lot of things that still need to be done to dot all of our i’s and cross all of our t’s.”
But the $500,000 pot of money won’t all go entirely to employees.
About a third of it will go toward lawyers for their fees, if the bankruptcy judge approves those charges, Raisner said. There also will be other administrative fees to get a payroll company to cut checks for the employees.
Federal and state withholding taxes also will be deducted from the amount each employee receives.
After negotiating among the various parties and doing some digging, Barrett was able to get an agreement.
The deal would settle a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond alleging the company violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act. That law requires companies with a large number of employees who are being laid off as part of a mass layoff or plant closing to provide 60 days’ notice or to pay them their wages and benefits for the 60 days.
The laid-off employees, who are entitled to a priority claim under federal bankruptcy laws, settling their case by receiving less than initial demands, Barrett said.
The settlement deal also calls for Sterling National Bank, which provided financing to Colortree’s owner for its operations, to advance the $500,000 to fund the employees’ claim. In return, the bank and Barrett agreed to equally split all accounts receivable proceeds, which could amount to collecting up to about $1 million. The trustee currently has on hand about $404,000 from accounts receivable proceeds.
“We were able to discover a potential claim against Sterling and we utilized that leverage to get Sterling to put up some money in the case to avoid litigation,” Barrett said.
Sterling is owed more than $6.8 million, court documents show.
James “Pat” Patterson, Colortree Group’s owner and its president and CEO, agreed to pay $165,000 to settle potential claims that Barrett believes he could have against him. Patterson has asserted he has various claims against the company, including for money loaned, court documents show.
Patterson became sole owner of Colortree Group in late 2016 when his Stingem Management Group LLC acquired Boathouse Capital’s 72 percent stake in the company that he didn’t own. Patterson and Boathouse Capital had acquired Colortree as well as Graphics Innovations, a specialty printer of direct-mail products, in 2011.
Facing mounting opposition and the public release of a judicial inquiry of his misconduct several years ago, 11th Judicial District Judge Robert B. Beasley Jr. on Wednesday withdrew his application to the Virginia General Assembly to be elected to a second six-year term.
Beasley, who had been removed from the bench for two months and placed under supervision for two years for his courthouse behavior in 2014 and 2015, had sought to retain his seat when his term expires on Nov. 30, 2020.
He was first elected by the General Assembly in 2014 and began work on Dec. 1 of that year, filling a third general district court judgeship created that year in the 11th District.
But last month, the clerks in his home district began collectively contacting state senators and delegates, among others, to express their strong opposition to his reappointment. In a joint statement, the clerks said their offices would not be able to function efficiently and openly with him presiding on the bench, “and the courtrooms will have to operate without a clerk.”
“I am certainly not trying to bring more negative publicity to the judicial branch, but his reappointment will certainly achieve that,” wrote Powhatan General District Court Clerk Michelle Soukup, who as spokeswoman for the clerks in the 11th District, contacted state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg; Sen.-elect Ghazala Hashmi, Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan; and Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg, as well as Karl Hade, executive secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Rick Kohl, president of the Association of Clerks of the District Courts of Virginia, was in the process of drafting a letter to state legislators that supported the 11th District clerks’ opposition to Beasley’s reappointment.
“I pulled the articles [published about Beasley’s conduct] and spoke with Michelle [Soukup], and got some feedback from other clerks regarding what they had to endure that led to the complaints” against the judge, Kohl said. “And of course they were sustained. They have fears of what potentially could happen, and they are just in their beliefs. So we’re trying to do what we can as an association to ensure that this doesn’t happen.”
A message left for Beasley with the clerk of Petersburg General District Court, where he presides on a limited basis, was not returned.
Shannon Heard, legal associate with Virginia Division of Legislative Services, said Beasley notified her office Wednesday morning that he was withdrawing his reappointment bid.
Beasley had been scheduled to appear Dec. 6 for a public interview with the assembly’s courts committees. Soukup and other clerks of the 11th District had planned to attend. Judicial elections for judges seeking reappointment typically occur in mid-January.
“We are very pleased that Judge Beasley has decided to withdraw his reappointment application,” Soukup said Wednesday.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch published several articles in 2016 on the allegations against Beasley and an investigation of those complaints by Virginia’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission. The clerks said they were sexually harassed by the judge and had endured crude remarks inside and outside the courtroom. Beasley also was accused of emailing images and posting pictures in clerks’ offices that conveyed sexual innuendos.
The judge also was alleged to have made repeated statements about court employees’ jobs, suggesting they would be terminated if he were elevated to the position of chief judge.
The complaints against the judge led him to write letters of apology in January 2016 — “for my offensive conduct and statements over the past year” — to clerks in Amelia, Powhatan and Dinwiddie, the counties in which he sat as a judge.
The disciplinary information regarding Beasley was made public in October after the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission forwarded its findings and orders to the assembly’s House and Senate courts of justice committees. State law requires the commission to transmit any evidence it has about the alleged misconduct of any judge who is up for re-election.
The commission’s factual bases for suspending Beasley for two months included unsuitable behavior of a judge on and off the bench, inappropriate humor and allegations of unethical court procedures, according to the commission’s Nov. 23, 2015, suspension order.
Among other misconduct, the commission said Beasley presided in September 2015 over the trial of a longtime friend charged with possession of marijuana after speaking with both the defendant and the commonwealth’s attorney about the case. Among other things, Beasley obtained a written “waiver” of his disqualification to hear the case from both the defendant and prosecutor.
In November 2015, while meeting with Powhatan’s female general district court clerk and the commonwealth’s attorney, Beasley displayed to the clerk, on the screen of his phone, a partially clothed man lying down with a woman on top of him as they were holding a “bong.” Beasley asked, “Do you think that’s a prostitute or a whore?” according to the commission’s findings.
Beasley taped a photo of a cougar to the window of a female clerk’s office and sent her an email or text, commenting on the fact that she had married a younger man after being divorced from an older man, the commission also determined.
Under the terms of his agreement with the commission, Beasley was placed under supervision for two years. During that period, he was required to meet with a supervising judge at least once a month do discuss his conduct, his progress and any problems that may arise.
He also was required to submit quarterly reports to the commission with copies to the supervising judge, and was banned from participating in any legal education program as a speaker or presenter.
Before the commission lifted his suspension, Beasley was required to prepare a commission-approved plan “specifying how the judge proposes to repair the hostile work environment in each jurisdiction where he sits, detailing the judge’s plan to restore working relationships with clerks, court personnel, and others in each jurisdiction, and including a time-table for execution of the written plan.”
Beasley was also required to adopt a written policy or protocol to follow in all potential conflict cases, and successfully complete the National Judicial College’s ethics course, “Ethics and Judging: Reaching Higher Ground.”
The judge successfully completed the requirements of his supervision on March 20, 2018, according to the commission’s final order.
After his suspension, Beasley was assigned to preside in a number of districts across the state during his 14-month exile from the 11th District. In the summer of 2017, he was allowed to return but his duties were limited to presiding over mental health commitment hearings at three hospitals within his district. He was not allowed to sit on the bench at that time.
Earlier this year, Beasley was allowed to sit in Petersburg and Dinwiddie general district courts, but presiding only over traffic cases and contested civil matters.
In March 2016, two leading members of the Senate threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against the judge. But that was stopped by then-House Speaker William J. Howell, who, after reviewing the available information, said there were no grounds to consider impeachment.
Before being elected to the bench, Beasley served as Powhatan’s commonwealth’s attorney for 14 years.