Leesburg Town Councilman Neil Steinberg, Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez leveled accusations this week that their council colleagues are planning to show Town Attorney Barbara Notar the door.
Furthermore – in spite of Councilwoman Suzanne Fox’s claims otherwise – the three suggest Fox is being motivated by a developer’s campaign contributions.
A letter submitted to the Times-Mirror by Steinberg, the primary author, alleges that council members Ron Campbell, Tom Dunn and Josh Thiel, led by Fox, will try to move for the firing of Notar at the Jan. 28 council meeting.
"In what appears to be a concerted strategy to assist a Loudoun County developer in his attempt to subvert the planning processes of both the Town of Leesburg and Loudoun County, four members of the Leesburg Town Council have indicated they will move for the firing of Lessburg Town Attorney Barbara Notar," Steinberg writes. " ... This effort is being spearheaded by Leesburg Councilwoman Suzanne Fox who, coincidentally, received no less than $23,000 dollars in campaign contributions from the developer."
The actions and claims come after council voted against holding a closed session on Jan. 13 for Notar to share information about threatened litigation from Graydon Manor, a proposed winery, brewery, event space and co-housing development just west of Leesburg's town boundaries.
Gregory has filed five active lawsuits against Loudoun County for not approving the Graydon plans by-right, while the threatened lawsuit against Leesburg has to do with the town providing sewer to the property, which currently gets town sewer at a lesser capacity.
Gregory currently has no active Graydon applications with either the county or town.
Former Loudoun County Supervisor Ron Meyer, a Republican from the Broad Run District who approved Gregory’s 2018 application to turn Graydon into a kennel, said that Gregory could get a form of Graydon Manor approved if he went through the regular channels instead of filing lawsuits at the expense of local governments and taxpayers.
“If [Gregory] followed the rules, all the laws and the systems that we have in place, he could probably get a good chunk of what he wanted,” he said.
In Leesburg,Town Council has approved Notar’s contract in previous years, though Dunn always voted against it, saying “the town was not getting adequate service.”
Last week, though, when Town Manager Kaj Dentler emailed council about upcoming agenda items, including the renewal of Notar’s contract, Fox, Campbell and Dunn objected. The following day, according to Burk, Thiel joined those who objected to Notar’s performance.
“At no time have I ever thought that [Notar] was doing anything but the best for the Town of Leesburg,” Burk said. “When someone is in a position to give you advice and you don’t agree with it, that’s not a reason that person isn’t doing their job.”
Martinez added that Notar has taken on an impressive workload: “There is no performance issue … If it were a personnel issue, we’d be going into closed session to work with Barbara on a plan to improve her performance.”
When asked, Fox and Thiel would not clarify their exact reasons for disapproving of Notar’s performance ahead of the meeting. Campbell could not be reached for comment.
“The attempt by Steinberg, Burk and Martinez to air an internal personnel matter in the public sphere is extraordinarily inappropriate,” Fox said. “It runs contrary to our rules of decorum, procedure and confidentiality, and they should know better. No action has been taken, or even formally discussed, with regard to Ms. Notar's contract, so I can only assume that the … letter was a stunt intended to inflict political damage against perceived political rivals.”
Dunn has maintained that Notar’s Boundary Line Adjustment negotiations, by not being more aggressive, have given Loudoun County an opportunity to rezone the Joint Land Management Area’s Tuscarora Creek for workforce housing without consulting Leesburg.
“The joint part of Joint Land Management Area is gone,” he said.
Martinez countered that they would have not gotten the Peterson deal to add four restaurants to Compass Creek had they not taken their current stance.
Steinberg’s letter further alleges that Fox is masterminding “a concerted strategy to assist a Loudoun County developer in his attempt to subvert the planning processes of both the Town of Leesburg and Loudoun County.”
This is a reference to donations Fox has received from Gregory. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, which Steinberg cites in the letter, Gregory has given Fox more than $23,000 in campaign donations, with $21,600 for her failed state senate bid last year.
Fox, who says that none of the letter's signatories approached her before sending the letter, said it’s ludicrous to think that three other council members would be influenced by a donation made to her campaign.
“Gregory and I have had conversations regarding some of his plans, but none of those conversations had anything to do with political patronage,” Fox responded. “I was thankful for [his] support [of my campaign], and when he asked who the check should be from I told him I wanted his name on it, as to be transparent as possible. The idea that I was so thankful that I would break the law and risk my reputation is ludicrous … It is sad that it's come to the point that, in my quest to serve my community, there are those that seek to vilify me for having friends I go to church with who wanted to support me when I ran for higher office.”
Steinberg’s letter also alludes to rumors that Gregory tried to use campaign donations in the 2019 Loudoun County Board of Supervisors race to remove Loudoun County Attorney Leo Rogers from office—allegedly making Gregory’s bid for county approval of Graydon Manor easier.
Gregory has given more than $130,000 in political contributions across party lines since 2015, including to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) and to political action committees that have donated to Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) and former Supervisor Geary Higgins (R), among others.
When the Times-Mirror asked several parties who were connected to the rumors, they acknowledged that they were familiar with the accusations but would not go on the record about whether they were true.
Tia Walbridge, a Democratic Board of Supervisors candidate for the Blue Ridge District last year, did go on the record to say that in her case, rumors that connected a $20,000 donation from Gregory to candidate John Bell in December 2018 with a $25,000 donation from Bell to Walbridge next day were unfounded.
“It was the end of the fundraising period,” she said, adding that Bell has been her political mentor and had promised to contribute to her campaign. “It’s just the timing.”
More discussion about Notar’s performance is likely to come out at the Jan. 28 meeting.
“It forces me at least, that in order to show their statements to be false, I have to disclose more of my concerns [about Notar] than I would otherwise have to,” Dunn said, adding that his, Fox’s, Campbell’s and Thiel’s actions are by no means concerted. “Wherever we went with this, [Steinberg, Burk and Martinez] have gone farther.”
Steinberg said he has gone to the public to help Notar keep her job.
“We are … in the middle of several fairly delicate situations,” Steinberg said. “Now you want to throw out the … attorney and spend the next six months in what will probably be a fairly expensive search? I think that’s a bad move.”
Notar has not addressed any of the allegations publicly.
“Due to my position as the town’s attorney I cannot comment on any legal matter or personnel issue pending before the town,” she said.