Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) – Access, Influence & Money

Who is the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG)?

You may be wondering who is the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) Partnership?  What is their purpose?  Who do they represent?  Does the JTHG care about congestion or safety?  Let’s take a look. The JTHG is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was formed in 2005.

https://www.hallowedground.org

Their website describes the JTHG as:

“The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is a non-profit, four-state partnership dedicated to preserving our American heritage in the region running from Gettysburg, PA through Maryland and Harpers Ferry, WV to Jefferson’s Monticello in Albemarle County, VA.” “Congress named the Journey Through Hallowed Ground a National Heritage Area in 2008 – the nation’s 38th — and the Secretary of Transportation designated the main thoroughfare running through it a National Scenic Byway in 2009 – the nation’s 99th.” The National Scenic Byway encompasses what was once known as the Old Carolina Road, which now includes Routes US 15, VA231, VA20 and VA53.”

Below is a link to JTHG’s Tax Exemption submission to Loudoun County (including Federal filings, Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Financials, Statement of Justification and other supporting documents):

https://www.loudoun.gov/documentcenter/view/108787

Further, per JTHG’s Loudoun County Tax Exemption application (pg3 Item 12), JTHG represented that it is not “involved in carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation” emphasis added. Below is a link to the IRS (and excerpt) regarding the definition of lobbying as it pertains to non-profit 501 (c)(3) organizations:

https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/lobbying

 “An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”

All of the children’s education programs, camps and tree planting activities appear to be a noble cause.  However, is road engineering and design part of JTHG’s mission?  Also, after reading the JTHG’s fundraising letter, cited later in this post below, ask yourself – Is the JTHG lobbying elected officials?

Route 15 Process

Let’s see how the JTHG is participating in the Route 15 process.

First, the JTHG is a member the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee.

Route 15 Stakeholder Committee Members:

https://www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/View/129269

Route 15 Stakeholder Committee Charter:

https://www.loudoun.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/7429

Second, the JTHG has been given unfettered access to our elected representative. In fact, Supervisor Geary Higgins went out of his way to invite the JTHG for their input to the “Route 15 Congestion Report” that was eventually presented to the Board of Supervisors on May 18, 2017.

Supervisor Geary Higgins email to JTHG Bill Sellers 11-18-16

Third, the JTHG was selected as one of only three “stakeholders” in the Route 15 Congestion Report dated May 18, 2017 (see Pages 31 & 32).  Note there were no citizen stakeholders included in the report.

https://lfportal.loudoun.gov/LFPortalinternet/0/doc/218963/Electronic.aspx

A copy of Section 7 Stakeholder Input Summary:

Stakeholder Input Summary 5-18-17

Fourth, the JTHG had nothing to offer in the report regarding Route 15’s congestion or safety.  The JTHG was only concerned about removing berms along Route 15 in front of the Big Springs community.  Below is an excerpt from the report:

JOURNEY THROUGH HALLOWED GROUND (JTHG)

Given the US Route 15 corridor designation as a national scenic byway, a meeting was held on December 13, 2016 with Bill Sellers, the President and CEO of the JTHG Partnership. The JTHG encouraged Loudoun County to utilize the design guidelines contained in their adopted Corridor Management Plan (available online at https://www.hallowedground.org/Partner-Resources/National-Scenic-Byway/Corridor- Management-Plan). Some of the key elements are:

  • Maintain the rural character of the roadway
  • Incorporate the Living Legacy Tree Planting Project
  • Follow the rural design elements in the Corridor Management Plan
  • Review screening and buffering conditions

JTHG acknowledged that the residential developments along the corridor have changed the roadway design with the addition of large mounds placed by the Big Springs homeowner’s association, shown in the photo below, and it no longer resumes the historic character intended for this scenic byway. Therefore, JTHG views this project as an opportunity to make improvements.

Fifth, the JTHG representatives to the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee rarely participate.  Why?  Could it be that they feel they have an inside track on influencing the outcome outside of the public process? They had every opportunity to participate, but now want to obstruct the process in the 11th hour by advocating for a solution that they know won’t work, won’t last, and is a big waste of money.

Sixth, the JTHG enjoys the benefit of Loudoun County promoting and displaying a link to its website on the County’s web page.

Fund Raising

The JTHG is now raising funds.  They seek to raise $20,000 to engage a designer to present an alternative plan.  The JTHG seeks to influence and persuade Loudoun County’s elected officials and decision makers. The JTHG’s fundraising letter “to persuade Loudoun County Officials”:

JTHG Letter 8-21-18

http://fixroute15now.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/JTHG-Letter-8-21-18.pdf

https://www.gofundme.com/route-15-coalition

Below is an excerpt from their Go Fund Me Page:

Route 15 Coalition – JTHG NSB

“Help save one of the most beautiful sections of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, Route 15, in one of the most historically rich sections of the National Heritage Area, from a critical and urgent threat.

The Loudoun County government has been studying alternatives for the future of Route 15 from Leesburg to the Potomac River, and while they’ve said they want to preserve the historic and rural character of the road, new county documents show their intent is a four-lane divided expressway, which will attract more traffic.

Making this 2-lane rural highway a divided highway “with access limited to key intersections” will at least triple the road width, obliterating historic crossroads communities and historic structures, and sharply curtail access to the local small businesses, and heritage tourism on which the economic development of a National Heritage Area depends. It also threatens the viability of large working farms on either side of the roadway.

There is a better, cheaper, and more effective way to address current congestion and safety issues on the road—by using the award-winning model of the Route 50 Traffic Calming Project in Loudoun. We have engaged the designer of that successful project to provide an alternative design vision for Route 15—but we need your help to achieve it. We need to raise $20,000 to get this alternative in front of local and state officials. Can you help us save this irreplaceable part of United States history?”

Are the JTHG’s “persuasion activities” of “Loudoun County officials” prohibited by the IRS?

https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501c3-organizations

“The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.  The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”

Ethics in Loudoun County

Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (Leesburg District) and co-chair of the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee is a trustee of the JTHG.

https://www.hallowedground.org/About-Us/Leadership-Board/Kristen-C.-Umstattd

Considering that the JTHG’s role has drastically changed from being a member of the Route 15 Stakeholder Committee to now working outside the process, this is a clear conflict of interest whether real or perceived.  Kristen Umstattd should remove herself as a Trustee of the JTHG.  Ethics do matter in Loudoun County. A copy of the Loudoun County’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct for the Board of Supervisors can be found:

BOS Current Code of Ethics 2016

 

Asks of Loudoun County:

  1. Return the Route 15 process to the citizens, not special interest groups
  2. All Supervisors to publicly publish and provide a calendar of their meetings with the JTHG since January 1, 2016 (including who they met with)
  3. Supervisor Umstattd to step down as Trustee of the JTHG
  4. Loudoun County to remove the JTHG link on the Loudoun County web page
  5. The BOS direct the Loudoun County attorney to review the JTHG’s tax exempt status with the County
  6. The BOS abide by the Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct signed on January 21, 2016
  7. Grant no special favors or privileges to any individual or entity based on any outside influence or personal relationships
  8. FIX ROUTE 15 NOW!!!
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