The Manassas Mystery Box

As mentioned in this post about Councilman Shaun Edward’s bio, Manassas officials have declined to produce specific information about grants received and accounts held. We were alerted to a budget problem when Councilwoman Tonya Edwards, back in October, 2016, called for a shady resolution to allow the city to move money between funds. In response, we sent the city two open records requests, one for the grants which had been received, and another for the accounts held by the city.

Now, you would think that any responsible government body would have a pretty good idea where its money was coming from and where it currently resides. Not Manassas, though, at least not that they’ll admit. Their response to the grants request was a voicemail offering to let me look through a box of papers. Their response to the accounts request was a letter offering to let me look through a box of papers.

Note the slipperiness of these responses. What are the odds that this mystery box would be complete or have accurate papers other than a carefully screened subset? Plus, if any information were missing, they could always claim later that it was in there and I simply missed it. On the other hand, if they gave a written response, they would then be responsible for a complete answer, and taking responsibility simply hasn’t been an obvious part of their game plan. Best case, they are so hopelessly incompetent that they have no idea about where public funds came from, currently are, or are going. Worst case is for a future post.

Interestingly, the same city government that feels it necessary to pass an improper budget end run (we’ll loop back around to that one with new information very soon) because it needs to cover budget shortfalls somehow can’t produce definite answers to questions about grants and accounts. Or, in other words, they know they have a budget problem, but are unwilling to say how they know.

That’s OK, there’s other ways to get that same information. And other ways to ask those same questions. This slipperiness alone tells us what they think is important to withhold, and where we should take another, closer look.

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[…] our first example, consider the city’s offer to let us look through a box of papers when we requested grant records and city account records. A fan of public corruption might simply […]