Email muddies supervisor’s walkout during vote

It was a move that rocked the county, and despite public outcry over his recent walkout from a crucial vote, Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes has remained silent.

Since that pivotal May 16 hearing, much conjecture has been bandied about the county as to Haynes’ motive behind abstaining from the county’s final budget approval, which was approved 3-1, with Dist. 2 Member Jean Harper dissenting.

A recent email uncovered by the Northern Neck News though the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, however, has perhaps shed some light on Haynes’ choice to abstain from what many consider to be the most important decision county officials make during a fiscal year.

On May 24, the following email, sent from Haynes’ on May 13 to his fellow supervisors, as well as the county administrator, was uncovered.

It reads as follows:

“I met with Dr. [Mike] Chandler after the Certification Class on Friday and he verified my opinion that the vote held during the Public Hearing on May 9, 2013 was a violation of Virginia Code. He cited the same points that I did before and after the Public Hearing/Meeting. This is the first time that I have ever seen Dr. Chandler visibly upset. He stated that even if we didn’t understand the code that common sense should have told us that you cannot apply double standards as a matter of fundamental fairness. He made specific suggestions as to how we should rectify this situation. He emphasized acting quickly and openly. 

Also, as we discussed earlier, Supervisors wishing to abstain from votes need to do so before any discussion or votes. “Votes” includes consensus votes. Please explain this to Mr. Thomas before our next meeting. The exact explanation is on page 7 of the most recent “Board Meeting Procedure in Virginia” manual as well as the Supervisor’s Manual and the code itself. 

What particularly distresses me is that the Supervisors in violation were involved in the lawsuit citing conflicts of interest regarding the previous School Project. Although we got off on a technicality, our County Attorney has c1eariy stated, in writing, that we were in violation. We are either slow learners or just simply do not care. 

If you have any doubt of the seriousness of this situation I suggest you read the current series of articles in the Richmond Times Dispatch regarding the Henrico School Board. They committed a similar offense and I think that their subsequent response offers a template as to how we should proceed. 

In addition to code violations there are also lapses in protocol which I would like to discuss at a later date. 

Unless this is handled immediately, in an open and honest manner, we will cross the line between negligence and malfeasance. 

Inaction is not an option. We have violated the public trust and we are accountable as a matter of law and conscience.”

A dissection of the email, however, may bring more questions than answers.

After the initial decision by Haynes to abstain from the final budget vote, attempts for an explanation were declined.

It is important to note that earlier emailed requests were marked as spam and not received by Haynes prior to press time on May 22.

However after obtaining them, Haynes replied: “You will have to wait until the BOS Meeting for further information. This is the second time that I have told you this so stop wasting my time.”

According to Robert’s Rule of Order, which many elected officials follow as a guideline, abstention is defined as follows; “In the usual situation, where either a majority vote or a two-thirds vote is required, abstentions have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the vote since what is required is either a majority or two thirds of the votes cast. On the other hand, if the vote required is a majority or two thirds of the members present, or a majority or two thirds of the entire membership, an abstention will have the same effect as a “no” vote. Even in such a case, however, an abstention is not a vote and is not counted as a vote.

Additionally, on page 138 of VACO’s 7th edition of their supervisor’s manual, a majority vote, or at least three of the five members, constitutes the adoption of any budget.

Dr. Mike Chandler, a consultant for Virginia’s Supervisor Certification, referenced in Haynes’ first paragraph, was unable to be reached by press time, however, at no point did Haynes officially object to any process held during the aforementioned public hearing.

Additionally, the lawsuit to which Haynes refers, which is now nearly three years old, only includes one current supervisor, Courtney Sisson (Dist. 4) and was dismissed on a demurrer after it was agreed that there was no legal basis for the lawsuit.

Haynes’ reference to Henrico’s School Board woes only resulted in reports alleging that a member of that district was involved in “poor communications” regarding a $17.6M contract for educational laptops approved two weeks prior to a public session.

While the budget work sessions in Richmond County ended with concensus votes, final appropriations were not voted upon or approved until after a public hearing.

As to his claims that the board is on the precipice of “malfeasance,” there is currently little public evidence to back his claim.

Haynes is expected to explain his abstention and clarify the above-mentioned email during the board’s next regular meeting on Thursday, June 13, 7 p.m. at the county meeting room adjacent to the sheriff’s office.

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 9:23 am