Well, well, well. Look who’s back in town.
John Holland, award-winning investigative reporter.
If you listen closely you can almost hear the sound of sphincters tightening.
Fact is, when Holland’s nosing around, local power brokers get nervous.
Let’s back up. Holland arrived at The Virginian Pilot in 2013, bringing with him the skills and patience to doggedly dig through public records in search of irregularities or wrongdoing.
After months of studying votes and bank records, Holland broke a story on Nov. 8, 2014 that Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms had cast votes that benefited developers with loans from his employer, TowneBank. The mayor resigned his job with the bank and a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate. The prosecutor lodged criminal charges against Sessoms under the state’s Conflict of Interest Act. In December of 2015, in a plea agreement, the mayor pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count.
His work on the Sessoms story earned Holland the 2016 Virginia Press Association's “Journalist of the Year” award.
Holland says the story about the mayor was meant to be the first step toward bigger, more important stories. There were other issues in Virginia Beach that he was investigating when - after a tempestuous time with newspaper management - Holland abruptly left the paper.
For much of 2018, however, he’s been back at the Beach, working for an undisclosed benefactor or benefactors. Holland’s been quietly doing what he does best: using the Freedom of Information Act to sift through thousands of documents and emails.
Since he’s been in town, in fact, a number of communications have surfaced: Several emails show the city manager’s fury toward the secretary of transportation over the state official's refusal to knuckle under to demands from the Beach. Text messages between the city manager and one of his deputies that caused some to accuse the city officials of racism. Other emails show the city manager’s cozy relationship with a local developer.
On Thursday, Holland told me he’s ensconced in the Virginia Beach Development Authority offices at Town Center now, examining documents he requested through FOIA.
Over drinks nearby, Holland said he’s no longer being paid to investigate shenanigans at the Beach but found so much fascinating information that he decided to keep digging.
Officials should be wary. John Holland’s very good at what he does.