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VML Appointment Triggers Flap In Purcellville

© Leesburg Today - 05/28/2015

It's rare for town council members to criticize each other openly in public, usually preferring to air their disagreements privately or by email. But during Tuesday night's Purcellville Council work session, those disagreements were on full display.

Councilman Doug McCollum took Councilwoman Karen Jimmerson to task for her email remarks following his announcement May 12 that he had been appointed to the Virginia Municipal League's Community and Economic Development Committee.

Before dealing with the specifics of Jimmerson's remarks, which he described as ""divisive, spiteful and a personal attack on my integrity,"" McCollum said he had hoped that after 11 months in office the council would be functioning better.

""I regret to say that I don't believe that we have made any significant progress,"" he said Tuesday night, urging his colleagues to develop a better working relationship and trust in each other to achieve their goals and be an effective functioning unit for the good of the town.

McCollum said the core of Jimmerson's concerns appeared to focus on his relatively routine appointment to the VML committee, the announcement of which had left her ""dismayed, quite confused and rattled,"" she wrote in an email.

In an email to Town Manager Robert W. Lohr Jr. on May 14, Jimmerson asked for documentation regarding McCollum's appointment. She said the appointment made by VML leaders should have been subject to the mayor's approval. Jimmerson wrote that, according to VML practice, nomination forms are sent that must be completed and signed by a chief administration officer or mayor.

""It appears that several members of this council were denied this information and the announcement at the Council Meeting on May 13, 2015 comes across as quite underhanded,"" Jimmerson wrote Lohr.

""Conducting business behind the scenes like this and denying all members of council equal access to service to any and all boards and committees is deceptive at the least,"" Jimmerson continued.

She also inferred that the action had breached the council's own Code of Ethics, including point number 7: ""Ensure the integrity of the actions of the Mayor and Town Council by avoiding discrimination through the dispensing of special favors or unfair privileges to anyone, whether renumeration or not.""

Jimmerson closed her memo to Lohr by saying, ""This is reprehensible and I am saddened that this is not the first time that members of this council have sought assignment to committees and boards outside of the Town without the full input of council.""

Jimmerson told Lohr she wanted this issue and all actions on committees to be put on the agenda for council's next meeting.

But, McCollum said, the facts were quite different.

He noted that all council members had received two emails from the town manager notifying them that VML was seeking nominations to its committees. The second email was a reminder to sign up.

""The mayor then signed the nomination form with my name on it and submitted it to VML,"" McCollum said.

He said he failed to see how the facts surrounding his appointment violated any principle of the council's Code of Ethics, was underhanded or denied access and questioned what was reprehensible about the procedure followed by the mayor, the town manager and McCollum himself.

Pointing out that his appointment was to a VML committee, which is in within the authority of the VML and not the mayor, McCollum said the mayor nominated him as a candidate, upon which the VML appointed him.

A further wrinkle in the dispute was that the mayor did not remember signing the form, and taxed Lohr with that.

Jimmerson had sent a second email apologizing for ""poor messaging"" and having ""a sharp tone,"" but McCollum said she declined to withdraw the underlying accusations.

Acknowledging questions as to why he had raised the matter in such detail, McCollum said this was not the first email Jimmerson had sent that contained unsupported accusations or innuendo. ""But it is surely the most strident,"" he said.

Jimmerson defended her actions, claiming it was easy to ""cherry pick"" different phrases from her email.

""We get a ton of emails from VML,"" she said, asserting the item had slipped the radar, ""whether intentionally or not."" Jimmerson also told McCollum she had apologized for her tone and poor messaging.

""I did not disparage you in any way, shape or form,"" she said, stressing it was the process to which she was objecting and that there was no reason for McCollum to take it personally.

Both Councilman Patrick McConville and Councilwoman Joan Lehr renewed their caution on the council's use of email, particularly with reference to how they affected staff.

Vice Mayor John Nave addressed the issue obliquely, stating it is natural to have differences, but council members should ""remember you came in to do things for this town. Sometimes you can focus on the end game and not what is right in front of you.""

Councilman Ben Packard did not comment, beyond urging the council is to be cheerleaders for the town-""to get people excited about Purcellville.""

Mayor Kwasi Fraser had the last word on the subject., Lamenting the depiction of the council as ""fractious,"" Fraser said the people and business representatives he talks with ""are very pleased with what we are doing."" He urged a quicker release of the planned town-wide survey, that is being coordinated by McConville and Nave. ""It shouldn't take six months,"" he said.

The survey, when finalized and the method of distribution agreed upon, will be distributed to every household and every business in town.

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