After a 20-minute closed session Tuesday night, Leesburg Town Council voted 4-2-1 to approve a separation agreement with Town Attorney Barbara Notar and unanimously voted to replace her with interim attorney Martin Crim.
Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez voted against the removal, while Councilman Josh Thiel was absent the meeting. Councilman Neil Steinberg, who three weeks ago wrote a letter to the editor denouncing four members of council for trying to “move for the firing” of Notar, joined council members Ron Campbell, Suzanne Fox and Tom Dunn to vote for her removal.
Steinberg said he voted the way he did in order to break a tie that would only allay what he believes was an inevitable outcome.
“It was a situation no one wanted. In the end we arrived at as suitable an outcome as could have been expected,” he said.
Before the vote, several Leesburg business owners, attorneys and citizens came out to support Notar and her service to the town.
“Leesburg is going through a renaissance,” businessman Michael O’Connor said. “You folks have done that. Your staff has done that. [Notar] is a great part of that staff. I’ve never seen her take a position that I didn’t agree with or come to agree with.”
Both O’Connor and Jim Sisley, a longtime Leesburg resident and former member of several town commissions, voiced concerns that Leesburg’s secrecy and actions might come to echo the years-long controversy and fallout that occurred after Purcellville Town Council forced out longtime town manager Rob Lohr.
“I believe there is a stain, a serious stain, a permanent stain on the town immediately to the west of us,” Sisley said. “An action to dismiss a senior staff member ... should be a 7-0 vote. And it’s clear that you don’t have a 7-0 vote.”
Before going into closed session, Dunn and Campbell decried Steinberg, Burk and Martinez for going public with the letter to the editor, denying any sort of collusion among the other four members of council.
“We’re going into more closed sessions within the last year than I think in all my 12 years combined on town council,” Dunn said. “It makes accountability difficult for those things that come up in closed session.”
Campbell read aloud a letter that he requested be discussed in a future open session.
“The current atmosphere on the town council is toxic, and it’s shameful that the false allegations and other claims that were shared were only made to cause harm, not to heal or to create any unity,” Campbell said in his letter. “Leesburg deserves better from its public servants.”
New Interim Town Attorney Crim, a shareholder in the Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian firm, currently works as Middleburg Town Attorney and will be continuing those duties in addition to his work with Leesburg.
Crim will be immediately jumping into several major negotiations. The town is in Boundary Line Adjustment discussions with the county and is negotiating revenue sharing with the proposed Microsoft data center.
Burk said she doesn’t want either of these to lose steam with the transition.
“[Notar] was instrumental in all those negotiations,” Burk said. “I think Ms. Notar did so much that it’s going to be hard for the town to continue at the pace that was already in progress.”
The town will begin its search for a permanent town attorney in the coming months.
Notar, in a statement to the Times-Mirror, said, “The approval of the separation agreement was bittersweet for me. I am proud to have been part of the town’s many accomplishments during my 11-year tenure. Although I will miss being part of the town team, the separation agreement gives me the opportunity to explore the next chapter of my career.”