Media Truth

Controversy with the BVU Scholarship Program

by Lewis Loflin

BVU returned five years worth of scholarship applications claiming privacy concerns. The press claims BVU is "revamping" its policy to keep the information out of public hands. This happened after the Bristol Herald Courier requested the information under the FOIA. The problem erupted after the Herald Courier revealed what seems to be a corrupt system of patronage and nepotism. The applications contained items such as copies of financial statements, letters of recommendation and grade transcripts, etc. BVU officials claimed they had no copies of anything.

BVU is city owned and must make their financial records public. A student elected under this "scholarship" system could net as much as $12,000 in free money paid for by utility customers. The schools include Virginia High, John Battle High and Tri-Cities Christian. They claimed nobody would apply if the information was public and are trying to concoct some scheme to keep the information out of public hands.

To quote the press of BVU president Wes Rosenbalm, chief executive officer of BVU said he, "felt it was information on minors that we should not have in our possession." But there's more to this than it seems. Wes Rosenbalm, the highest paid public official in Bristol Virginia, is according to TVA, "is chairman-elect of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the board of Tri-Cities Christian Schools."

It turns out he made a decision to go back to TVA in 2007. So why are those attending a wealthy private school that happens to be headed by the president of BVU getting money from BVU paid for by customers that can't afford to go there? I don't believe he is dishonest, but this prime material for the press to attack him on.


Who you know...

"Since 2005, five applicants with family ties to city employees have been among the top scorers invited for a final interview; four emerged as scholarship winners." according to the Bristol Herald Courier. The "committee" that makes the decisions consists of BVU employees, some local school officials, and an unnamed "citizen-at-large." They evaluate students based on some strange "rubric" system that gives extra points to the kids of their highly paid public employees. It's not based on either financial need or it seems even academic merit.

The scoring system is absurd and is "geared toward assisting the kind of student we think will stay in the community and make a difference here," and "not necessarily the 4.0 scholars," the press quoted from Wes Rosenbalm. Further, "Having a relative here gives you a tie to the community, a reason to come back." In other words the typical "white trash" resident can leave while their (City employees) relatives that can "make a difference" can stay. The Tri-Cities region has lost as many as 35,000 college graduates over the last 20 years.

The money comes form BVU's operating budget, which in turn is funded by all rate-paying customers. The present cost is $24,000 per year. The program began in 2003 and "was designed to give a little bit of an edge to children of city employees...We're proud of that. I wish we had more teacher's children that had been awarded the scholarship," say public officials.

The system is rigged all around because all the same people occupy all the boards and appoint each other and their relatives. To quote,

The scholarship is exclusively funded by BVU, and a spokeswoman said the utility has never had a sponsor and has not reached out to any. While BVU operates largely apart from the city, it is closely tied to the City Council, which must approve rate hikes, and which appoints members to its board of directors.

Bristol Mayor Jim Rector, a retired Washington County, Va., school official and a past BVU board chairman, sits on the utility's board and the scholarship committee. Also on the committee is City Councilman Harold Leonard; Washington County and Bristol Virginia school officials Gary Catron and Mike Amstein, respectively; Dr. Jim Geiger; and three BVU officers, Rosenbalm, Marketing and Business Development Director Sandy Crusenberry and Chief Financial Officer Stacey Bright.

Ref. BHC 2-8-2008