Tuesday, Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson-R announced that she sent the Prince William Commonwealth Attorney and Virginia Attorney General an email from former Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland-R for investigation. In said email, dated May 7, 2023, Candland offers advice to a company looking to navigate the Prince William County Government system.
Lawson alleged that the correspondence could indicate impropriety or illegality as Candland admits to advising companies on how to work within the system just months after leaving office.
Here is the email:
May 7, 2023
It’s great to e-meet you. As Jeff mentioned, since leaving the Board of County Supervisors in December, I’ve been working with companies to help navigate their projects through the sometimes complicated and unique landscape found in Prince William County.
As you probably know, our county is unusual compared to other NOVA localities as our approval process is very relationship oriented.
“It would be my pleasure to meet and discuss the current dynamics in PWC.
Candland, who served between 2011 and 2022, denies any wrongdoing.
Lawson, the Republican nominee for board chair, called for a press conference to release documents she had sent to the officials in the name of “transparency” and of her strong belief that government should work for the people.
According to County Code III.A that states former county officials and staff are barred from advising on government processes for one year, in certain instances, if they received remuneration for the work. Breaking that law is a misdemeanor offense that could even result in jail time.
However, the Code also specifies a high bar for what constitutes that impropriety. It only qualifies if the person worked on the same project “personally and substantially." Lawson did not mention this aspect of the code during her press conference.
ARTICLE III.A. - RESTRICTIONS ON ACTIVITIES OF FORMER OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES
(a) Officers and employees are prohibited, for one year after the date their terms of office have ended or their employment has ceased, from providing personal and substantial assistance for remuneration of any kind, other than that arising out of and in the course of duties as an elected official or judge of any court, to any party other than Prince William County or a state or federal governmental agency in connection with any proceeding, application, case, contract, or other particular matter involving the county or an agency thereof, if that matter is one in which the officer or employee participated personally and substantially as a county officer or employee through decision, approval, or recommendation.
(b) The board of county supervisors by resolution may modify all or a portion of this prohibition with respect to a particular officer or employee when it concludes that the future employment of that officer or employee will not negatively impact Prince William County.
(Ord. No. 91-69, 6-4-91; Ord. No. 99-16, 3-9-99)
State Law reference— Authority for above section, Code of Virginia, § 15.2-515.
While Lawson said that while she cannot judge if impropriety occurred, she believed it was worth investigating. “The information raises questions or gives an appearance of improprieties or misconduct that I cannot ignore," she said.
Lawson clarified that there were two separate issues in the paperwork she had submitted. One is Candland's email exchange. The other is a rezoning application prepared by a member of Candland’s staff.
She released a separate document, showing that a member of Candland's staff prepared a rezoning application for Minnieville Capital Acquisitions, LLC. The June 2023 document shows that the company requesting to build a “Mid-County Industrial Park” on Dumfries Road in the Coles District.
However, that employee left his position in Sept. 2022, and the Mid-County Industrial Park is a new project, so it appears he or she could not have worked on it.
In Candland's May 7, 2023 correspondence, an acquaintance recommends that he reach out to someone in order to help them navigate the Prince William County "landscape," and said, "The abridged version is Candland said, “Our county is unusual compared to other NOVA localities as our approval process is very relationship-oriented.”
He also said he has “been working with companies to help to help navigate their projects." since his resignation.
Lawson said the company decided not to accept his assistance. The accusations have gained momentum perhaps because people are already suspect of Candland.
He left office in December of 2022 because he was one of the Pageland Lane area landowners who signed on to sell their land to data center developers to build the controversial Prince William Digital Gateway. That project, should it win approval, would house approximately 30 data center buildings.
Candland resigned right before the vote on the Comprehensive Plan Amendment, leaving the Gainesville District without representation.
At the media conference, Elena Schlossberg, Director of the grassroots organization The Coalition to Protect Prince William County, disparaged Candland's actions.
“Pete Candland, who was run out of office because he signed on to a deal to sell his property to data centers and left his constituents with no representation- what those emails show is that after PC left office, he is acting as what appears to be a lobbyist or some kind of role between developers and the county. There is a one-year requirement that you cannot do that,” said Schlossberg. “So it is more than just an ethical violation.”
But it is possible Candland did not break the law. Article III.A defines the terms used in its code, which first narrowing the definition:
Bristow Beat also obtained a confidential document that provides some clarity on the issue. While it cites the terms "personally and substantially," the attorney's letter concludes that specific facts will determine whether actions violate Article III.A , and as it is specific to each situation, it cannot necessarily be applied in this instance.
UPDATE: Bristow Beat obtained a copy of the email that said Candland was in contact with a woman named "Jennifer" who worked for Yondr, a data center developer.
Yondr is the company that is developing the data center on the Hunter property behind Amberleigh Station. Candland voted in approval of that application in 2021. Since then, residents have been unhappy with having the data center just 100 feet from their property lines.
The property is owned by Charles "Chuck" Kuhns, who owns JK Moving and Storage and participates in land acquisition in Northern Virginia.
Candland, who is a communication professional and consultant by trade, responded that the allegations are “completely false,” and that he went through all the proper legal channels.
“At no point did I violate any county or state code regarding the actions of former elected officials. In the past, I received guidance from the County Attorney on what is permissible, and I have strived to follow that guidance after leaving office,” Candland said.
Candland said the accusations are troubling and his family has been hurt by “politics of destruction,” including receiving death threats.
Lawson began the conference by talking about her commitment to transparency. “We were elected to serve the people. And I will always put people over politics.”
Sharing a small peak at the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, she reminded people there has been an “exodus of Prince William County Planning Staff,” due to an “untenable workplace."
The logical conclusion would be to wonder if Prince William County was a pay-to-play sort of place in which applicants needed to have grand designs to curry favor with supervisors.
Lawson said she believes what she is doing was right, and ultimately, it will be up to the Commonwealth Attorney and Virginia Attorney General to decide if Candland and his associate did anything illegal.
When Schlossberg took the mic, she shared her grievances about how the data center industry has influenced the supervisors, leading them to approve tech centers that both residents and environmental groups abhor.
Interpreting Candland’s email as evidence of government corruption, she connected it to Chair Ann Wheeler, since she has been promoting data centers, despite residents' outcries. However, Schlossberg said when it comes to the data center industry, it is a statewide problem.
“What is happening in Virginia, is that the data center industry is utilizing the levers of government and cutting out citizens,” she said.
Kathy Kulick of the Prince William Roundtable and other citizen activists opposed to the rampant data center development outside the Data Center Overlay District also took the mic.
Several attendees said they did not receive any documents ahead of time, but they did receive an invitation from Lawson’s office to attend the event.
Bristow Beat will explore the second allegation, addressing the rezoning application in a subsequent article.
Candland Made a Career of Consulting...
While Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson has accused former Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland of possible misconduct in advising companies that already had business with Prince William County when he was on the board, this is not the only allegation lodged against the supervisor.
Gainesville citizen Bill Wright previously contacted the Commonwealth Attorney Amy Ashworth, informing her that Candland had, after leaving office, been consulting for LSI Comm, a PR firm for businesses trying to seek government approval.
LSI’s website states that "with over 20 years of combined government experience, our team knows how to navigate the halls of government," and companies who work with them will have their, "message heard by the right elected officials."
LSI is currently working with residents of Pageland Lane to help manage their rezoning application. However, as Candland is a member of the assembly he is not involved in that project.
Michael Young, communicating on behalf of LSI, responded that LSI hired Pete Candland (for pay) in March of 2023, due to his “illustrious track record” in communications and his commitment to the community.
However, they first had an attorney counsel them that they were not infringing upon any law.
“I would also like to emphasize that Pete's engagement with LSI was reviewed by our outside legal counsel in advance to ensure there were not any potential conflicts of interest, in strict adherence to the county and state code,” Young said in an email.
On LinkEd In, Candland describes himself marketing professional who aids communications among parties. "An interactive communicator and collaborator – skills that enable me to establish authentic relationships with local businesses, government officials, community members, and industry leaders."
Candland is the president of Red Letter Consulting, a PR agency that specializes in serving nonprofits. The company describes itself as existing "to help organizations address their strategic planning, fundraising, and operational needs."
Red Letter Consulting has an almost identical website to LIS, but Young said that is only because Candland had a hand in both of them, but the companies are, otherwise, not related.
Candland's other consulting work was not addressed during the media conference.
Lawson’s aide provided the media with said documents literally moments before the start of the conference. This meant reporters were unable to read over the documents before she began speaking This left everyone proverbally scratching their heads and also prevented most of them from asking pertinent questions.