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Faces of 2019: After 'Ellen' appearance, Robert Dunham focuses work on new nonprofit

How you know him: A picture of Robert Dunham cutting students’ hair went viral in June. Three months later, he appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

What’s new: Dunham, a teacher at George W. Carver Elementary last year, trusted his instinct that he should bring his hair clippers to work on the day of his students’ “moving on” ceremony, a graduation from fifth to sixth grade.

What started as one student getting a haircut turned into seven as other teachers at the school brought in more students needing a tidying up for the big day. A picture of the act soon went viral on social media and in media outlets across the world.

His September appearance on “Ellen” highlighted the gesture again. Dunham was surprised on the show with $10,000 to pay off his car — he’s paid off half the car with the remaining money being saved for a home down payment — and an additional $10,000 toward a trip to Disney World — a vacation planned for this school year’s spring break.

Dunham has started a nonprofit, Be the Change RVA, that partners with local barbershops to give free haircuts to students.

“The things that have happened this year are things that I never thought would have happened,” Dunham said. “I’m just extremely humbled that I was able to be a part of positive change.”

The fifth-grade teacher now teaches exceptional education at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, where more than 3 in 4 students live in poverty, according to state data.

At his new school, Dunham hosted a Parents’ Night Out event for three hours on a Friday night where students were fed and able to play with one another. Haircuts were part of the event, of course.

Dunham and his wife are also planting a church that is set to launch in early 2020 inside Carver Elementary.

“I’m just trying to make a difference, especially in the lives of children,” he said. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Caravati Cousins Football League hosts 50th annual Christmas game

Every family has holiday traditions. But few rival the Caravati Cousins’ Football League, which marked 50 years since its first game Saturday.

Each year since the inaugural kickoff in December 1969, branches of the Caravati family have traveled from all over the country and world — this year, some journeyed from London — back to Richmond for a day of touch football.

“There is nothing like it,” said Elaine Caravati Ryan, who, at 91, is the matriarch of her side of the clan. She is one of nine children, and it was her youngest brother, Richard Caravati, who started the tradition as a way to bring the family together during the holidays.

“Any family could do this,” said Richard Caravati, who lives in New England. “It’s just sheer luck that it ended up being an automatic thing.”

Those who wanted to play — cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, children, in-laws (the family calls them “outlaws”) — presented themselves around 10 a.m. Saturday at Mary Munford Elementary School. They broke into four teams to play two games of 6-on-6.

“Anyone can play: boys, girls, boyfriends, girlfriends,” said Maureen Nay, Elaine Ryan’s daughter and one of the 24 cousins to make up the family’s fifth generation. “We don’t care, the more the merrier.”

The oldest among them, at 77, was Richard Caravati; the youngest was 8-year-old Sawyer Fitch, representing the seventh generation.

Sawyer said the touch football game was his favorite part of the holidays.

“We don’t get to see everybody all the time, so we get together and play football and stuff like this to get to see each other,” he said.

Alan Fitch, Sawyer’s father who played on an opposing team with 10-year-old son Grayson, said the boys have been playing since they were about 5.

“We want to show them how important family is,” Alan Fitch said, “so maybe one day, they’ll keep it going.”

Richard Caravati said he’s resigning as the league’s undisputed commissioner after this year. So someone else will have to step up, he said.

“I was a super young man when this started,” he said. “They said that it’ll go on for generations.”

They play rain or shine. Nine years ago, they played during a blizzard that dumped several inches of snow on the East Coast causing even the NFL’s Vikings and Eagles to postpone their matchup in Philadelphia that day. Luckily, Saturday’s weather was perfect.

Those with bad joints (or “a bit too old,” explained Maureen Nay) refereed or cheered from the sidelines.

Zander Caravati, the current youngest member of the family at 16 months, also watched as both his parents, David and Tasha Caravati, played. They said it would be a few more years before he could join in, but Zander was already clutching a miniature version of the Caravati Cousins’ Football League official pigskin, a red-and-white ball with a coat of arms and the league name printed on it.

The night before the big game, the family hosts a holiday party where attendance often reaches triple digits.

This year, the event was held at the Caravati’s antiques salvage business in Manchester, where another family tradition was bestowed. An antique vase — which is as universally cherished as it is despised as it’s ugly, according to David McCreight, whose father (an outlaw) first gifted it — is given to the next family member to be married. Several family members who wished to remain anonymous admitted to hiding the heirloom in their attic until time came to pass it on and they had to frantically search for it.

Amanda Conley, who is planning a wedding in February, held it as proudly as if it were the game-winning trophy during Saturday’s halftime, when family photos are taken.

“I’ve been planning for this since I was 10,” she said. Conley blocked off space in a new china hutch to display it.

As for who actually won the game, no one knew, or cared much.

“We keep score,” Richard Caravati said. “Halfway through, we forget.”

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'Unconstitutional, Period': UVA legal scholar challenges legislative appointments to state executive boards

A prominent University of Virginia law professor — and husband of the university’s former president — has laid down a constitutional challenge to the General Assembly and its practice of appointing its own members to policy boards created within the state’s executive branch of government.

In a treatise bluntly titled “Legislators on Executive-Branch Boards Are Unconstitutional, Period,” professor Douglas Laycock says the General Assembly violates the Constitution of Virginia by appointing its members to executive boards, including those governing higher education institutions and issuing state grants for economic development.

The treatise, to be published in the next issue of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, also challenges a state law that grants exceptions to the constitutional prohibition for 21 state policy boards as “clearly unconstitutional.”

“Appointing legislators to executive-branch boards violates any meaningful conception of separation of powers,” he writes. “The only purpose is to intrude legislative influence into the daily workings of the executive branch.”

The argument, if tested and adopted by the Supreme Court of Virginia, would require removal of dozens of legislators from boards the state has exempted from the legal prohibition under the personal separation of powers clause in the state constitution. Those include the GO Virginia Board; the New College Institute and state-supported, regional higher education centers; the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind; the Substance Abuse Services Council; the Criminal Justice Services Board; the Virginia Workforce Development Board; and the State Executive Council for Children’s Services.

The exceptions do not include the politically powerful, state-financed Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Board of Trustees, currently chaired by House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights. The prohibition does not apply because the foundation is an educational institution, not an executive policy board.

“I think the legislature has to take it pretty seriously,” said Carl Tobias, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law.

However, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, disputed Laycock’s conclusion.

“While legislative-executive issues are constantly evolving, the precedent in Virginia on these type of appointments would argue to the contrary,” he said.

“Governors of both parties, with some very learned constitutional lawyers, have not prevented the governors from making these appointments,” said Norment, an attorney at a Norfolk law firm. “It is challenging for me to fathom that the governor’s attorneys would allow their bosses to make unconstitutional appointments.”

“Also, the statutory construction of some of these boards and commissions as enacted by the legislative branch and signed into law by governors explicitly was written to include membership made up in part by legislators,” he added. “It again challenges me that the Division of Legislative Services’ attorneys would draft such legislation knowing it was unconstitutional. I am not aware there has ever been a constitutional challenge substantiating [Laycock’s] perspective.”

In 2016, Attorney General Mark Herring found “significant risk” of constitutional challenge to legislation, sponsored in part by Norment, to create the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Act, or GO Virginia.

The legislation as initially adopted specified the composition of a 22-member state board, which would have included seven legislators and eight legislative appointees, or a majority. The governor would have appointed four citizen members and three members of his Cabinet. The legislation also would have required approval by a majority of legislative members from the House of Delegates and also the Senate to award grants from a fund financed by appropriations in the state budget.

Herring concluded that the legislation faced “significant risk” of being overturned by the Supreme Court of Virginia for violating the constitution’s separation of powers clause because the assembly members and appointees effectively would control decisions over money awarded from the fund.

“Continuing legislative control over such spending decisions could well run afoul of the Constitution’s commitment of those decisions to the executive branch,” he said in a 10-page opinion that directly addressed the “whole power” doctrine set out by constitutional author James Madison to limit one branch’s influence over another.

“A group of legislator and legislative appointees with the ability to approve — or to veto — spending decisions would be exercising the ‘whole power’ of the executive branch, and the ‘governmental branch constitutional vested with authority’ would not ‘retain the final decision-making power,” he said.

The General Assembly and then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe reached a compromise that gave the governor the power to appoint a majority of members to a reconstituted 24-member board and sidestepped the issue of veto authority.

However, Laycock said the attorney general’s opinion did not address the fundamental issue of whether any legislators could serve on an executive-branch board or, if so, how many.

“The Attorney General answered the only question he was asked, about a particular proposed statute that provided for majority control by the legislature,” he wrote.

Laycock, who also teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, had floated his premise before in an early draft published anonymously to protect his wife, Teresa Sullivan, then president of UVA, and the university itself from retribution.

“I was unwilling to run the risk that any legislator or government official might blame her or the University for what I wrote, or that any such official might assume that she or the University put me up to writing it,” he said in a footnote at the beginning of the 32-page paper, dated Sept. 11 and available through the UVA School of Law.

“I kept the project entirely secret from her; I wanted her to have not just plausible deniability, but actual, truthful and absolute deniability,” Laycock wrote. “If anyone had asked her about this article while she was president, she would have had no idea what they were talking about.”

His argument focuses on the Division of Powers clause in Article III, Section I of the state constitution, which requires the separation of legislative, executive and judicial departments “so that none exercise the powers properly belonging to the others, nor any person exercise the power of more than one of them at the same time.”

The final clause, which Laycock calls the “Personal Separation Clause,” prohibits a legislator from being on a university’s board of visitors, for example, because it “would result in the same person exercising both legislative and executive functions at the same time, with no justification whatever,” he wrote.

“These restrictions are not mere formalities,” he added. “They are designed to protect the people by preventing the concentration of power in one or a few individuals, or in any one branch of government. They respond to the insight that power corrupts, and that the greater and more concentrated the power, the greater the tendency to corruption.”

Currently, legislators serve on one board of visitors for the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. However, they also serve on a number of higher education boards of trustees or directors, including the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, the Roanoke Higher Education Authority and the New College Institute.

Three years ago, the New College Institute changed its bylaws to allow legislators to serve in leadership roles for the institution, established a decade earlier in Martinsville. Five legislators already served on the board of directors under an exception to the state law prohibiting legislators from serving in executive branch roles.

The board adopted the changes and elected Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, as its chairman. Four other legislators also serve on the 12-member board: Del. Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania; Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta; Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville; and Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County.

Laycock dismisses the state’s exceptions to the law as unconstitutionally invalid.

“The mere fact that these exceptions have existed, and that no one has challenged them, does not mean that they are constitutional,” he wrote. “It means only that no one has seriously considered the question and that the courts have had no occasion to rule.”