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MORE: Leesburg Town Council appoints interim council member after closed-door discussion

Hugh Forsythe takes the oath of office Jan. 9 to become Town Council’s newest member. Courtesy Photo/Town of Leesburg
Leesburg Town Council on Jan. 9 conducted a closed executive session so members could have an “open and honest conversation” about appointing someone to serve on the town's governing body on an interim basis.

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.


I watched the video again.  The liberals lined up with the liberal candidates.  The conservatives lined up with the conservative candidates.  There was one exception and that was Campbell’s 1st Thiel vote.  Dunn challenged Council to postpone vote for a month.  Then Campbell said let’s do closed session.  They came out of closed session and Burk motions for Forsyth.  And everyone votes for him. 
Looks like the closed session resulted in the conservatives not budging plus Dunn not even in the room so no telling what he would accept.  And the liberals flipped completely even on Thiel.  It looks like Campbell and Martinez were running cover for Burk so she would not be the only one supporting a conservative.  I can see how Martinez would not want to discuss inside party politics out in the open.

Kelly Burk keeps trying to hide the fact that she has a plant in Gwen Pangle, who serves as her head of the Leesburg Economic Development Commission and Downtown Business Association, and has her own private Real Estate Business, and is using both government entities in many respects to market her business, be awarded work, throw work to others in the real estate industry (many contributed to her election fund), etc. Kelly’s vote all along was to elect Gwen to the seat. Imagine that. No wonder as they roll with Kristen their other BOS bestfriend.

Oh, the Burk era will be a short one.  Did she learn nothing from BJ Webb’s single term?  Leesburg does not tolerate closed door politics.  Nor should we.  It shows a strong lack of judgment. The result of the session might be a good one, but it is not the result that is the issue.  The end does not justify the means.  Good bye.

The Council came together and made a very good choice to fill the vacant seat.  Major General Forsythe is ethical and his character is beyond reproach. He is a leader, of which the Council needs more sitting members.  We all should be proud and pleased to have such a distinguished individual and patriot serving the Town.

They are hiding from the public and that is not acceptable.  This warrants concern and a demand for transparency.

It did not take long for Burks campaign plank to break under the heavy clouds of a closed session.  So much for Burk’s claims of transparency and setting a new tone in Leesburg.  And Campbell must be proud that his first action was to keep the public in the dark about Council’s selection process.  What happened in the 15 minute closed session that allowed Burk to nominate Forsyth when she did not vote for him the first time he was nominated.  And why did Campbell vote for Thiel once and then not vote for him the second time Thiel was nominated?  Sounds like the same old song of deal making and no new tone.

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