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WOODSTOCK – Tempers flared and accusations flew Tuesday as some Shenandoah County supervisors revived the debate over who leads their board.
District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley remains the chairman though the board has yet to elect the lead officer for 2017. District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker serves as vice chairman. Supervisors voted earlier this year at the end of a budget work session with the School Board, and with Helsley absent, to elect Walker as chairman.
County Attorney Jason Ham later advised members that the 3-2 vote was not legal because it took place in a work session, not a regular meeting. Walker said in a subsequent meeting he would not stand in the way of Helsley continuing to serve as chairman as the board deliberated on the county budget.
But the matter didn’t die then. Earlier in the Tuesday meeting, the board entered into closed session to discuss legal matters with Ham, including the issue of who serves as chairman – Helsley or Walker. The board also discussed the possible acquisition of properties for citizens’ convenience sites and a potential legal challenge to the supervisors’ approval of the rezoning for a Dollar General location in Basye.
At times the attorney and some supervisors could be heard raising their voices and arguing during the closed session discussion, specifically mentioning the chairman seat.
When the board returned to open session, Helsley divulged that members spent more than 45 minutes discussing the chairman matter but noted that he couldn’t tell the audience what they said. Helsley went on to recall he met with Walker, Ham, County Administrator Mary T. Price and Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass before the board’s Feb. 28 meeting. At that time Walker and Ham disagreed on the attorney’s legal opinion of the earlier vote for the chairman. Helsley showed a thick folder of documents he said is the attorney’s opinion distributed to all board members.
“And at that meeting I said, ‘you know it appears to me that we’re never gonna agree on this and so the best way to do is to take it to court and get a legal opinion, but I don’t think we should be charging the taxpayers for that opinion,’” Helsley recalled.
Helsley went on to say that he told those at the meeting he would pay the legal costs incurred by the attorney and the court proceeding if a judge finds in favor of Walker as chairman.
“But, on the other hand, if it is found that … we are correct in how we are handling everything, then I expected Mr. Walker to pay all the legal fees for the court and also the legal opinion and the county taxpayers would pay nothing,” Helsley recalled saying at the meeting with the vice chairman and officials on Feb. 28. “They would be off the hook on this situation.”
Walker did not accept the offer at the time, Helsley said. The offer still stands, the chairman added.
“And the offer was not made back then,” Walker interjected. “I take extreme, extreme opposition to what you said. That offer was not made back then.”
District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey, who pushed for Walker’s election as chairman, interrupted, saying “nor would (the offer) have been accepted because we have just found out or do you want to – ”
Walker stopped Bailey from continuing.
“Basically the problem is that we have been lied to on several different occasions and in being able to do that, that’s why we went into closed session and I think that our continued disagreement we will continue to move forward hopefully under parliamentary rules in the future – ” Walker said.
“We have a partisan attorney and I’d like to call for his resignation,” Bailey said, interrupting Walker.
At this point the board does not have an elected chairman, Walker said. Rather, the board has an acting chairman, he added, to which Helsley nodded in agreement. Walker said this situation will continue “until it’s able to be corrected.”
Ham submitted a bill for more than $14,000 incurred for research the board did not authorize him to conduct, Bailey said. The attorney did research on the same topic ahead of the Feb. 16 meeting that should have sufficed, Bailey added. The supervisor contended that the board did not violate the Virginia Freedom of Information Act when it voted on officers at the Feb. 16 meeting.
“The attorney does not agree with FOIA so, therefore, his opinion as parliamentarian is that the chairmanship stands,” Bailey said. “But the meeting was about the line-by-line and the answers that he received from some of these phone calls and inquiries that he made that he had yet to disclose to us.
“So that’s what this was about and no more tax dollars have to be expended on this because the action was taken legally on Feb. 16 and Mr. Walker should be chairman now but, because we have an attorney who uses the rules when they favor the old guard but not if they favor the new guard,” Bailey added. “As long as we have that attorney, that’s the way things apparently will remain and that is my argument for his dismissal.”
Helsley suggested that anyone who has questions about whether he made the offer Feb. 28 should ask Price, Vass or Ham.
The attorney made no comments during the open session of the meeting.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org