MORE: Leesburg Town Council appoints interim council member after closed-door discussion
Making the motion to discuss the appointment behind closed doors was newcomer Ron Campbell, who said council would be able to better discuss the process in private.
Campbell said closed session would allow the council members to have “open and honest conversation.”
“Not to hide things from the public, but among ourselves the consideration that might allow a swing vote,” Campbell said.
Voting with Campbell on entering executive session were Mayor Kelly Burk and council members Suzanne Fox and Marty Martinez. Burk said the move was in line with Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.
The motion to enter closed session came after several split votes on the five final applicants seeking the appointment. Those finalists include Jed Babbin, Rusty Foster, Hugh Forsythe, Gwen Pangle and Josh Thiel.
Voting against the closed session were council members Ken Reid and Thomas Dunn. Dunn went so far as to not participate in the private discussion.
“I try to avoid closed sessions at all costs,” Dunn said. “If we can't openly discuss five people in front of those cameras and these few people sitting out here tonight ... I don't know what we've got to hide.”
When council returned before the public, Forsythe was appointed to the post on an unanimous vote. Earlier in the evening, Campbell, Burk and Martinez voted against Forsythe, meaning they flipped their votes following closed session.
Forsythe is a retired Air Force major general and board member of Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers. He opted to begin serving immediately.
Councilman Dunn criticized the interim appointment process earlier in the day with an email to members of the media and town staff, saying the system was unclear. On Monday morning, town officials announced there were five finalists under consideration for the interim post, rather than the previously reported four.
“After the first of January when I discovered the mistake, I asked [Town Manager] Kaj [Dentler] how the results were scored in such a way,” Dunn said. “The town manager said staff totaled the scores but he did not say who or how the scoring system was created.”
When asked why the Jan. 9 closed session was necessary, Burk said “closed sessions allow discussions while protecting the applicant and their integrity.” It wasn't clear why that discussion couldn't be held in public.
“Closed sessions are not backroom deals,” Burk said. “They are discussions that protect the honesty of the process. In the case of the appointment it was the decent thing to do.”
Campbell said, “by voting as a Town Council to exercise this limited right to enter into a closed session, I believe we acknowledged and respected the balance of transparency, public interests and the practice of good government.”
The newly filled seat came following Burk's election to mayor last November. An election to fill the post for the remainder of Burk's term will be held in November.
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