Important Questions for Sen. Norment

The Virginian-Pilot ran a story today about Virginia Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) that raises some important questions to which his constituents and the people of Virginia deserve answers.

For the past three years, [the College of William and Mary, a Virginia state university] has paid Norment $160,000 a year to fill a dual role as legal adviser and part-time faculty member . . . .

Norment will continue teaching two courses and advising William and Mary President Taylor Reveley on “matters of policy,” Whitson said via email.  His pay will drop from $160,000 to $60,000, since “he will no longer have a role in our legal work,” Whitson said.

But there’s a silver lining for the 65-year-old Norment:  He collected the bigger salary just long enough to reap the maximum benefit for his state pension.  Pensions are calculated on the basis of an employee’s three consecutive highest-paid years of employment . . . .

Norment, a James City County Republican, has been in office 20 years.  He is Senate minority leader and a senior member of the budget-writing Finance Committee.

The reason that Sen. Norment will no longer be earning that extra $100,000 per year as a “legal adviser” for this state university is that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, with the support of Governor Bob McDonnell, has assigned a full-time member of his staff to fill that role.  However, in order to make this switch, Cuccinelli and McDonnell had to fight William and Mary, who resisted this change.

I’m not aware of anyone questioning the legality of Sen. Norment’s activities, but these activities nevertheless raise some important questions:

The Pilot article describes Sen. Norment as a “legal adviser.”  In this role, was Sen. Norment formally acting as the university’s legal counsel, or was he merely acting as a consultant?  Either way, what legal work has Sen. Norment done to earn $100,000 per year from this state university, how many hours of legal services has he provided to the university, and what is the resulting hourly rate for those services?

Likewise, what services is Sen. Norment providing the university as an adviser on “matters of policy” to earn $60,000 per year?  And isn’t it an inherent conflict of interest for a sitting legislator – especially one who is his party’s top leader – to be giving public policy consulting services to a state institution that receives funding that must be approved by the legislative body in which this legislator serves?

Couched differently:  Are any safeguards in place to guarantee that if the university is ever dissatisfied with Senate Republican Leader Norment’s services as a legal or policy adviser, they can terminate him without risking repercussions in their funding and other issues that must be approved by the Virginia State Senate?

In fact, why did William and Mary fight to keep Sen. Norment on its payroll when the switch to having these services provided by the Attorney General’s office will almost certainly result in the work being done at far less expense and with more accountability?

And finally, why is Sen. Norment entitled to benefit even more from this questionable arrangement by having the taxpayers of Virginia pay more into his public pension fund than any typical legislator receives?

Norment proposed two amendments to the state budget this year that would have directed an additional $5.5 million to William and Mary.

So let’s get this straight:  Sen. Norment gets paid $160,000 by the College of William and Mary and then introduces legislation to appropriate an additional $5.5 million to the College of William and Mary?  The apparent similarities to former Delegate Phil Hamilton are a little too close for comfort.

In addition to his work for William and Mary, Norment earned $120,000 in 2009 as commissioner of accounts for Williamsburg and James City County – a job to which he was appointed by a judge he helped put on the bench.

Commissioners of accounts, who preside over the disposition of estates, are appointed by circuit judges, who are appointed by the General Assembly.

Sen. Norment’s appointment as commissioner of accounts is legal, but again, is it proper?  In the 1990s, the Republicans defeated Democrat Senate Majority Leader Hunter Andrews (D-Hampton) and Delegate Glenn Croshaw (D-Virginia Beach) by drawing the public’s attention to their appointments as commissioners of accounts – the same arrangement that Sen. Norment now has.  How can the current Senate Republican leader justify availing himself of the same arrangement that was used by his party to defeat a former Senate Democrat leader?

This article reflects my own concerns and not necessarily those of Bearing Drift.  I raise the questions in this article because I firmly believe that if conservatives are to be successful in promoting limited, efficient, honest, and ethical government, we must start by maintaining and enforcing these standards in our own ranks.

Also to be clear, I am not accusing Sen. Norment of any violation of any laws, ethical rules or formal standards of conduct.  But I am saying that his activities as described in today’s Virginian-Pilot article raise important questions of propriety that should be answered.

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