Prince William logo controversy boils over, supervisor files a FOIA request for answers

June 19, 2013
Prince William County Supervisor Peter Candland (R-Gainesville). He wanted to know the backstory on the Prince William logos, and resorted to a Freedom of Information Act request to get answers.
Prince William County Supervisor Peter Candland (R-Gainesville). He wanted to know the backstory on the Prince William logos, and resorted to a Freedom of Information Act request to get answers. (Dayna Smith – For The Washington Post)

The chatter over Prince William County’s new, now discarded $750 two-blue-squares logo seemed to be over. The Board of Supervisors didn’t like it, and the county was going back to the drawing board next month. But Supervisor Peter Candland (R-Gainesville) was not satisfied. He learned that there were other logos prepared, at a cost of $12,500, and he wanted to know why the board wasn’t told this, and what happened to those logos, as well as how the two-blue-squares logo came into being.

Fellow Supervisor Frank Principi (D-Woodbridge) said it was time to move on. “I’m sorry Peter, this is overkill!” Principi wrote in an e-mail to Candland, and he put a stop to Candland’s letter, which would have served as a “board directive” to county staff. Candland responded by converting his letter into a citizen’s Freedom of Information Act request seeking his answers. The county responded, as counties often do, by telling their own county supervisor he’d probably have to pay money to get all the documents he was seeking. An elected official filing a FOIA request for information from his own county is not something you see every day.

It gets better. Candland’s wife, Robyn Candland, on Tuesday sent out an e-mail ripping Principi for objecting to his initial request, and for being told to pay money for information from the county he was elected to lead. She said her husband had issued a “challenge to this ‘good old boys club’ system — and the way they spend our money.” This concluded with a request for the recipient to send a donation to Candland “to help Pete continue this fight.” And Tuesday afternoon, Principi and Candland went toe-to-toe in the county board meeting, Candland still seeking his information, and Principi adamant that Candland’s request was “over the top and ill-natured.”

Finally, Candland agreed to remove the parts of his letter that asked county employees to either create new documents or reconstruct all their conversations about the logo. The board then agreed that the request could go forward as a board directive, rather than a FOIA request, with Principi muttering “I don’t care” as he consented to the directive.

PWCLogo
The now-rejected logo for Prince William County.

While this drama was unfolding in the county board room, I spoke with Jason Grant, who is one of the main focuses of Candland’s inquiries. Grant, the county’s chief spokesman, also has been involved in the county’s new economic development program, one prong of which has been to devise a unified marketing strategy. Part of that was a logo to be used by all the county’s departments, as part of a plan devised by a citizen’s advisory board in 2010. In August 2011, the board approved spending $30,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 for “Branding/County logo.” You can see it at the end of page 6 here.

Grant said a graphic design company already on a publicly bid contract with the county, Rogue Shard Design of Baltimore, was given the task. He said initially the plan was simply to devise a logo for the county’s cable television station, but that he thought the county might be able to use it both for TV and for the entire county. Rogue Shard initially devised five logos, then reworked those into another four, which were obtained last week by Potomac Local.com. The cost of the logos was $12,500.

But in 2012, Grant said, county economic development officials felt the logos were “too federal,” with focuses on eagles and stars. Economic development official Brent Heavner then turned to a firm in Michigan he’d previously worked with, David Castlegrant, and got a new, more generic design for $750, which was paid in September and October of 2012.

The infamous two-blue-squares logo was the result, and began a gradual roll-out around the county. But board members Candland and John Jenkins (D-Neabsco) objected to its use and the process behind it, and Jenkins issued a board-approved directive on June 4 for the county to “cease and desist” its use.

In that meeting, Grant described the use of the Michigan firm and the $750, but he didn’t mention the prior logos and the $12,500. He said he didn’t think anyone was asking about the prior discarded logos, that there was a gap of more than a year, and one full fiscal year, between the Rogue Shard logos and the Castlegrant two-blue-squares. “If one wants to argue that I should have known what [the supervisors] were asking, OK,” Grant said. “But there’s no intent to hide that. It seems as though there’s a belief that county staff is trying to mislead. And we’re not. We work hard to do the will of the board.”

Meanwhile, the board was hammering each other over Candland’s request for more information. “What really frustrates me is that Mr. Candland is now using my name in political fundraising,” Principi said, “or that I somehow objected to transparency or truth…We need to figure out what is wrong with the logo and fix it and not tie up county staff spending hours and hours” answering Candland’s questions.

Candland said he wrote the three-page letter on June 10 because of “a series of inconsistencies with our county staff,” and he named County Executive Melissa Peacor, Economic Development Director Jeff Kaczmarek and Grant, “that, to me, had left a lot more questions than I had answers. I would disagree with Supervisor Principi that we were going to forget about everything, hold hands or bury our heads in the sand about any questions we might have.

“I think,” Candland continued, “one of the responsibilities I have, and I thought every board member had, is oversight over county government. Making sure there is honesty and integrity in everything we do.”

After Principi objected to Candland’s request, Candland could either have gotten five votes to override him, requested an internal audit of the logo process, or file a FOIA request. “I thought that was a stunning development, that a sitting supervisor had to file a FOIA,” Candland said. “And then was stunned to find I was going to be charged. All because of Supervisor Principi’s objection. I think that is bad precedent to set and is troubling to me and should be troubling to everyone on the board.”

Candland’s letter was done to obtain answers before the board revisited the logo question at a July 16 work session. Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R-Potomac), who has been no friend of Candland’s on other hot issues, said she had no problem with Candland’s written request, rather than have him ask all the questions at once in the work session. Supervisor Wally Covington (R-Brentsville) then suggested the board consider approving Candland’s request as a directive. When Peacor said she might have a hard time promptly and accurately recreating all her conversations about the logo, and that the county creating documents might be time-consuming and costly, Candland agreed to remove that from his request.

And the county supervisor’s Freedom of Information Act request for information from his own county was withdrawn. County attorney Angela Horan said it was estimated to have cost between $350 and $500. Whether the response to Candland’s request will trigger further outrage remains to be seen. And the next logo Prince William comes up with really draw a lot of attention.

Candland’s letter was first published by Potomac Local.com, where Uriah Kiser has been doggedly pursuing “Logogate.” Robyn Candland’s e-mail seeking funding for the FOIA fight is here.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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Tom Jackman | June 18, 2013