VIRGINIA BEACH  - - Who will the Virginia Beach City Council support?  The citizens of Virginia Beach or two developers convicted of crimes and are represented by one of the mayor's campaign managers and fundraisers?

By a 6-5 Vote the council voted to approve this deal Tuesday night. Voting no was Vice Mayor Jones, Council members Bobby Dyer, Rita Sweet,  Harry Diezel, and Bill DeSteph. They voted for the interest of the citizens.  The other 6 led by Mayor Will(ing) sessoms voted for the special interest of the convicts-developers.

The deal is for developers of the 31st Street Hilton, a hotel financed by Towne Bank, where mayor Will Sessoms is president.

Sessoms was on council as vice president but employed by Wachovia Bank when the hotel was built.  Wachovia established an ethics policy barring employees from holding public office.  Sessoms joined Towne Bank which had no ethics policy.

This  is a case of the the people versus the council's special interest friends.  Same issue as when the council originally approved the 31st Street hotel which overwhelmingly was voted down by the citizens.

The issue is a proposal by Bruce Thompson, convicted of federal misdemeanor witness  tampering, and partner Edmund C. Ruffin, convicted of federal incomes tax crimes, to swap the city one set of parking places for another for a hotel project.

The developers want prime parking places that are just across the street from the Oceanfront.  They want to trade the city other parking spots farther away, inconvenient for citizens.

In the  deal the city did after it was rejected  by the voters, they forced taxpayers to subsidize a 968-space,  $31M parking garage for the hotel the voters turned down.

Of the 968 spaces, the developers  lease 380, 61 more would be set aside for retailers in their shopping strip, 20 are for the handicapped, leaving 507 for the general public.

At the current time where do members of council stand on citizen v. special interests?

  • Vice Mayor Louis Jones, Council Members Bill DeSteph, Bobby Dyer  are lining up  against the deal;
  • Rosemary Wilson, whose husband's accounting firm does the bookkeeping for Thompson & Ruffin faces a potential conflict of interest if she votes either way;
  • Jim Wood is waffling, but may be leaning against;
  • Rita Sweet reportedly leaning against;
  • John Uhrin, who's been in bed with Thompson in the past, and represents the oceanfront instead of the citizens, is in the plus column along with Mayor Will Sessoms;
  • the positions of the others is uncertain as of press time.


Lawyer Harrison

Billy Harrison, the lawyer representing Thompson & Ruffin, is a  X-powerful member of the council, who was accused in a sex assault case in the early '90s and paid the victim $28,000 to leave town

After a VNS investigative story, Harrison left the silk-stocking Norfolk law firm of Wilcox, Savage, where he was chairman of its ethics committee, and joined the Beach firm of Williams, Mullen.  

When he was employed members of his new firm told VNS, he would not be handling any cases involving the city of Virginia Beach.

As council liaison Harrison negotiated the  deal that successfully established the 31st St. Hilton Hotel for Thompson & Ruffin.  

At that time, Harrison's soon to be new employer, Williams, Mullen, was representing Thompson and Ruffin in the hotel deal.

Then councilmen Harrison, City Manager Jim Spore, Linwood Branch, and others staged a midnight coup as the deadline approached for approving the deal.

It required final approval of the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority (VBEDA).  

The deal was set to fail because VBEDA member Betsy Duke cited a conflict of interest preventing her from voting.

Harrison, et al, forced her to resign and they appointed Page Lea,  a failed candidate and Harrison lackey, in a last minute action, to replace Duke and give the deal the 1 vote needed to screw the public.

In summary:  
  • The developers are prominent Virginia Beach businessmen, both of whom have been convicted of federal crimes;
  • Their lawyer, Billy Harrison, is a former councilman who paid a woman who managed his hotel, $28,000 to settle a sex assault claim;
  • Harrison was one of the mayor's campaign managers and top fundraiser.
  • The firm he works for now is the same firm he negotiated with as a councilman to get the original deal for Thompson and Ruffin approve.
  • Current mayor Sessoms worked at Wachovia Bank when he was vice mayor.  He had to leave Wachovia and withdraw from seeking re-election to council because Wachovia passed an ethics code barring its employees from holding public office.
  • Sessoms joined Towne Bank as president and ran for mayor at his first opportunity because Towne Bank has no ethics standards.
  • And Sessoms' Towne Bank financed the original 31st Street Hilton deal for Thompson and Ruffin.

Does anyone see the citizens represented in any of the above summary?  Nyet!  Just the Developers and politicians and lawyers.  No public interest is served at all.