Complaint Filed Against Wheeler

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

CUMBERLAND – A complaint has been filed in Cumberland County Circuit Court requesting the removal of Supervisor Parker Wheeler, District Five, from the Cumberland Board of Supervisors. According to court documents, the plaintiffs are the citizens of the fifth district of Cumberland County.

The complaint was filed by Coy W. Leatherwood, District Five.

Leatherwood had threatened to file a petition to have Wheeler removed during last month's Board of Supervisors meeting. His comments during the March 12 meeting were in connection to allegations of unpaid federal taxes leveled against Wheeler during the February and March board meetings.

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Later that evening, during board member comments, Wheeler read from a prepared statement explaining a federal tax lien filed against him in Prince Edward County Circuit Court. (See article in the March 20 edition of The Herald.)

The board's Standards of Conduct states that all board members shall, “pay all taxes due to the County, State, or National Government.”

Although the board itself cannot remove one of its members, the electorate can petition for the removal of an elected official, such as a supervisor.

The Circuit Court can remove a supervisor for “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence” when it is determined to have a “material adverse effect” upon the conduct of the supervisor's office, according to Virginia Code section 24.2-233.

When asked if he had a statement on the petition filed against him, Wheeler said, “I have no statement on it at all. You'll have to contact the County Attorney.”

When asked if County Attorney Vivian Giles would be representing him, Wheeler stated, “she will have to get representation, if it goes anywhere.”

When contacted, County Attorney and Administrator Vivian Giles declined to comment.

In a statement filed with the petition for removal, Cumberland General Registrar Marlene Watson reported that, “according to the Virginia Election Law, the required number of signatures of 10 percent would be 43 signatures.”

Included as evidence for the complaint were, what the complaint describes as, “73 signatures from the registered voters of the fifth district. The signatures have been verified by the counties' registrars' office to be from the qualified voters of the fifth district.”

Watson confirmed with The Herald that she had reviewed all the signatures on the petition, making sure that names and addresses matched what she had on file. Some signatures on the petition were disqualified and not included in the total count, Watson stated. Reasons for disqualification included individuals not listing the address she had on file.

Watson pointed out that when individuals move, and change their address with the post office, they also should record a change of address with the registrar.

Three reasons were included on the petition signed by district five voters for requesting the removal of their supervisor:

– For the neglect of duty.

– Incompetence of the performance of the duties has material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.

– Violation of the Code of Conduct for a Cumberland County Board of Supervisor.

The Complaint

The complaint filed in circuit court states that 73 registered voters have signed a petition for the removal of the current Board of Supervisor of the fifth district for a total of seven reasons.

In addition to the three reasons listed on the petition, the complaint alleged: numerous mendacious acts to the constituents of the Fifth District of Cumberland County and to other citizens of Cumberland County; failure to complete the Virginia Financial Interest Statement in a timely manner and to be accurate and truthfully; and threatening citizens with legal lawsuits if they speak out.

Finally, the complaint claims that Wheeler has withheld evidence that was presented at the March 12 Board of Supervisors meeting, which was requested under the Freedom of Information Act. (See accompanying story in today's paper.)

Leslie M. Osborn, chief judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of which Cumberland is a part, has determined that it would be improper for the judges of the tenth judicial circuit to preside in the matter. The order of judicial disqualification has been submitted to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, according to the case file.

As of April 10, no judge had been designated for the case, according to the Cumberland County Circuit Court clerk's office.

Board Response

During the second public comments portion of the April supervisors meeting, Bruce brought up both the petition against Wheeler that had been filed at the circuit court and the FOIA request he had submitted for the written statement given by Wheeler during the previous month's meeting.

Bruce concluded his comments by stating, “I make a request to the chairman, due to these two facts of pending litigation and also refusing of a FOIA request, that Mr. Wheeler be removed of all committees that he serves on and that would be including Piedmont Regional Jail.”

Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Two, immediately moved that Chairman David Meinhard, District Four, serve on the jail board in lieu of Wheeler.

Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three, stated “I just feel that it's premature at this time.”

Banks voted in favor of the motion. Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, Wheeler and Ingle opposed the motion. Meinhard abstained.

Banks went on to comment, referencing the rising cost of jail bills to the County, “We got a real problem at that jail…Right now there's no one holding that jail accountable.” He concluded, “There's a problem at the jail and Mr. Wheeler's not solving it.”

Previous Petitions

This is not the first time Cumberland County citizens have sought to have supervisor removed from office by petitioning the circuit court.

Two petitions were filed by citizens requesting that then Supervisors Eddie West and J. Hubert Allen, Jr. be removed from office as members of the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors.

Neither man was removed from office by the court. The petition was dismissed according to a judgment entered February of 1998.

Although, the court found that both supervisors' use of the County credit cards for personal expenditures was “an exercise of poor judgment,” it concluded that there was no “neglect of duty,” “misuse of office,” “ill intent or evil intent on the part of” either man and that there was no evidence that the actions of either man “had a material adverse effect on the conduct of the office of the Board of Supervisor or the furthering of public business.”

The court went on to award attorney's fees to both men, which were ordered to be paid by the County of Cumberland and totaled $13,000, according to court documents.

In addition, this is not the first time Bruce has been a part of a petition filed against County officials.

According to court documents, Bruce submitted a request in the Cumberland Circuit Court to summon a special grand jury. According to a ruling by Judge Osborn, the petition listed 18 areas of inquiry; including, in part, the allegation that the construction of the Ag Renewable Resources LLC plant would constitute a public nuisance.

The defendants included the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors and Cumberland County Planning Commission. At the time, Wheeler was a member of the planning commission.

Judge Osborn denied the petition, stating in part that the “allegations in the Petition are insufficient to justify the establishment of a special grand jury.”