On Nov. 1, 2017 the Purcellville Town Council held a closed meeting with the subject, “The purpose of the closed meeting is to discuss the performance and possible discipline of an employee of the Town police department.” Most wondered, “Who?”
The citizens of Purcellville soon learned the meeting was regarding our chief of police, Cindy McAlister, when the Purcellville Town Council gathered for a photo op following their public vote of “no confidence.”
The next day Alex Vanegas – acting in his role as interim town manager – terminated Chief McAlister.
Two weeks later Town Council held an emergency meeting. A press release soon followed indicating McAlister was rehired but now both Vanegas and the chief were put on administrative leave.
Our questions then turned to, “What was the chief accused of? What is going on?”
Over the next month, more members of the community saw disparaging and borderline slanderous postings on local Facebook pages from some of the very same people involved in the initial investigation. We saw information posted in the now-defunct Loudoun Tribune regarding the results of a polygraph test that should have been confidential employee information.
“Why is this happening?” we wondered.
In February, hundreds of comments on Facebook suddenly disappeared from articles and other websites. However, we all know that what is put online never really disappears.
In April 2018, the first phase of an independent investigation conducted by Wilson Elser was released. The second phase of the investigation soon followed: The results highlighted the failed initial investigation conducted by the town’s initial “investigator,” Georgia Nuckolls.
Soon the community was asking, “How much is this going to cost?”
We knew the Wilson Elser investigation cost Purcellville close to a million dollars, but we wondered what would be the final cost.
Last month, Chief McAlister filed a $16 million lawsuit naming the Town of Purcellville, the police officers involved in the initial complaints, Vanegas and Nuckolls.
I picked up a copy of the lawsuit at the courthouse to view the complaints filed against each of the named defendants. It is concerning, to say the least.
I’m not sure any of us can accurately place a dollar amount on what it would cost if our professional reputation was damaged. We can't quantify the agony of going through a process like the chief has gone through. That is for the lawyers, the jurors and a judge to eventually decide.
For now, I ask: When will we get back to being the wonderful, scandal-free town we all know and love?
Please, take me back to the days when our biggest problem was locating the owners of the cows running through town in the middle of the night.
Purcellville has a special place in many hearts. We will recover and be back on track in the future, but in the meantime I ask, “How could this have happened?”
Beverly Chiasson is a Purcellville resident and former member of Town Council.