Notes from a Come-Here: Tales Out of School

Cape Charles Wave

December 31, 2012

I arrived in Cape Charles almost three years ago after giving up trying to save the program that had been my job at the U.S. Department of State. It was a sad time for me because I learned that corruption at high levels was untouchable at the State Department.

The Office of Special Counsel, which is supposed to protect whistleblowers, was toothless in my case, and the Merit Systems Protection Board was worse.

I was just doing my job — to provide supplies to residences of ambassadors and other high-level government officials for their official entertaining overseas.

But when it came time to solicit bids for custom glassware, I discovered that my supervisor planned to award a no-bid contract to a small “disadvantaged” company that had no experience with glassware.

I tried to persuade my superiors that a no-bid contract with that company, which had just emerged from bankruptcy, was not a good idea. They were unresponsive.

I went up the chain of command, without success, and finally “blew the whistle” to the Inspector General. Then I made the mistake of letting a State Department official know what I had done.

I was relieved of all my job responsibilities.

It is little consolation to me that the contractor later went to prison for defrauding the government, because that was for a contract at a different government agency, where she lacked friends in high places. At the State Department, where I worked, she had been untouchable.

The New York Post published a few stories about the scandal, and then lost interest.

I reported the matter to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, but there was no oversight, let alone any reform.

I took early retirement, and we moved far, far away from Washington corruption — all the way to Cape Charles.

We met the mayor, who was very personable, and Town Council members, also personable, who appeared happily engaged for the welfare of the town.

We were regulars at the beach and the pier, but did not attend any Town Council meetings. After our experience in Washington, we were happy to stay away from politics.


In February we were in California. Upon our return we saw the “Community Center YES” signs, and learned that the school in the park was to be sold.

Given the park location, we immediately wondered why the Town would sell such property rather than lease it.

Gradually we began to learn the details:

— The sale of the school was in response to an “unsolicited proposal.”

— The price offered was $10.

— An organization called “Old School Cape Charles” was trying to save the property for the community, but Town Council refused to entertain the group’s proposals. We signed a petition asking Town Council to allow time for the group to identify funding sources for a community center in the school.

By mid-March our newly adopted, once-peaceful town was in an uproar.

We heard that the school building was filled with asbestos (not true), and that staffing a community center would be cost-prohibitive (no additional staff would be required).

We began attending Town Council meetings, and learned that the Town had violated Freedom of Information Act requirements by rejecting proposals from the Old School group without a public vote. The Town also ignored FOIA law by keeping secret the subject of their closed-door sessions about negotiations with Echelon Resources, Inc.

According to Virginia law, an elected body must specifically state the subject of a closed-door meeting.

By the time Town Council dropped water and sewer hookup fees 50 percent, and then another 50 percent, we were becoming informed. We learned that the Town forfeited $18,000 insurance proceeds by selling the school, and that it agreed to give the developers another $41,000 in insurance money.

We learned that the Town’s attorney was paid thousands of dollars to review the sales contract with the developer, and that Town Council then ignored the attorney’s advice to require a performance bond and buyback option.

We read claims from Town officials that the original “open space” zoning for the school had been a mistake and therefore had to be changed to residential (which was absurd).

Later, we learned that Town employees strategized with Echelon developers Edwin Gaskin and J. David McCormack to delay signing a sales contract until after the May election. In a private email to Echelon revealed in a FOIA request, Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek wrote, “We are trying to avoid possible electoral consequences of contract approval just before the May 1 election.”

The “consequences” were of course that incumbents might not be re-elected.

Then, when three new members were elected to Town Council, we saw the old council vote to sell the school only days before their terms ended.

Although I have no evidence, I am convinced that something is behind all this that we don’t know about. Because I have seen it before.

As a come-here who thought that Cape Charles was a dear little town where laws were obeyed, it has been an eye-opener to learn how things really work.

In the end, the question comes down to Cui Bono — who benefits?

The sale of the school to Echelon Resources is focused on benefitting Echelon.

This past week, after Echelon bought the school and basketball court, it was the Town that removed the basketball hoops and backboards.

Cui Bono? Certainly not young people in Cape Charles. It only benefits Echelon by reducing their liability for accidents. But, as usual, the Town did the work.

Town Council did no study to determine if 17 one-bedroom apartments are needed. No consideration of the social, ecological, traffic, parking, and other consequences of locating an apartment complex next to the playground and park. Town Council had no such plans for the school — everything happened as the result of an unsolicited proposal.

Cui Bono?


Submissions to COMMENTARY are welcome on any subject relevant to Cape Charles. Shorter articles will be published as a Letter to the Editor.



5 Responses to “COMMENTARY:
Notes from a Come-Here: Tales Out of School”

  1. Kathleen Mullen on December 31st, 2012 10:49 am

    As a 6 month come-here, I appreciate the background information about the mess in Cape Charles. Your personal experience with political corruption and subsequent disappointment in finding that it is rampant even in a small town such as ours touches a nerve in all of us. I fear that morality is all but gone in our culture.
    To quote Shakespere, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and one day the truth of the matter will be exposed. Until then, continue on telling the truth, Cape Charles Wave. You are a candle in the darkness!

  2. Wayne Creed on January 3rd, 2013 4:24 pm

    Another great job Dorie. I wish I could say the deal with the school is just an anomaly, but it is really just part of a continuing trend, from the Vaccaro affair, to the wastewater plant, to sweetheart deals at the harbor, to lifting public safety funds for a new library, to the empty basketball court. And you are correct, something is going on here. Those apartments will destroy this town. Keep digging girl: sufficit unum lumen in tenebris — a single light suffices in the darkness. Eventually, the workings of this cabal will be brought out into the open.

  3. Deborah Bender on January 4th, 2013 10:16 am

    I for one like that the town took a public building and made it private for $10 and then took another public building (that actually brought in revenue) and paid $200,000+ and made it into a library! (no revenue of course)

  4. Susan Bauer on January 4th, 2013 2:31 pm

    Cape Charles is situated precariously near the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a small town on a relatively small spit of land between two vast bodies of water. The town has weathered many storms, including most recently Irene and Sandy. I seriously doubt a few little studio apartments are going to “destroy” the town. With a few less conspiracy theorists, I think our current metaphorical storm will also pass.

  5. Dana Lascu on January 4th, 2013 7:07 pm

    Susan Bauer, I completely agree. And, as we wait for the end of the peninsula and the world, and ponder on the irrelevance of the town’s esthetics, I would also like to extend this altruism and invite some squatters to live on my Bay Creek lot. Please inform me if you have any idea on how I could pursue this lofty goal and also, perhaps, extend an invitation on my behalf. Calling all nomads!