Board Debates Censure, Ethics

Published 4:46 pm Thursday, May 16, 2013

CUMBERLAND – The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Cumberland Board of Supervisors want to do away with the board's Standards of Conduct and Code of Ethics. At least that's what they voted to do during the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday night, May 14.

The code and standards were narrowly saved by the remaining three members of the board, who voted in opposition to a motion to do away with them made by the chairman.

Chairman David Meinhard, District Four, introduced the motion after withdrawing a previous motion to censure Fifth District Supervisor Parker Wheeler during the Board Member Comments portion of the meeting.

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Both motions were in relation to controversy raised over a federal tax lien filed against Wheeler in Prince Edward County Circuit Court.

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

Although Meinhard stated that he thought this would be a very controversial topic, he didn't let that stop him. “I feel strongly that we need to take a position on this matter,” he said during his comments.

He then moved that the board censure Wheeler for “conduct unbecoming and inappropriate for…a member of the board of supervisors.”

Wheeler stated following the motion that he will respond to Meinhard's motion of censure during the board's next regularly scheduled meeting, which is June 11.

After Supervisors Kevin Ingle, District Three, and Bill Osl, District One, spoke in opposition to the motion to censure Wheeler during discussion, Meinhard retracted it, moving instead that the board “go on the record” and do away with their Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct.

“Apparently the board does not feel that it is important to uphold those. They have no value or meaning to the board,” Meinhard stated.

“How can somebody on this board properly represent this County in a public capacity when they don't take care of their own responsibilities and public duties? I mean, what's more common place than paying your taxes?” asked Vice-Chairman Lloyd Banks, District Two.

Banks continued, stating he agreed with the chairman, “if the By-Laws or the Code of Ethics are of no interest in being preserved, then throw them out! They're worthless.”

When asked if he thought the recent motions by Meinhard were actually about his unpaid federal taxes, Wheeler told The Herald that he believed it was about power dynamics within the board.

Meinhard's call for censure and subsequent motion to ditch the code and standards mark yet another board of supervisors meeting this year that has ended with contention regarding Wheeler's tax lien.

In a statement made during the March 12 board of supervisor meeting, Wheeler attributed the unpaid taxes, and subsequent lien, to an accountant's oversight.

Wheeler explained that after switching to a new accountant, all taxes were up-to-date by the spring of 2012. He has worked with the government to plan his payment of the remaining back-taxes, Wheeler stated.

Once taxes are paid in full, it can take up to a month for a lien to be removed, according to the IRS website.

Following the March meeting, a Cumberland citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the written statement, which Wheeler read during the March meeting, from County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Giles.

He was informed in a letter that the statement was not in her possession, although she offered to provide a transcript of Wheeler reading the statement during the public meeting. (See article in the April 11 edition of The Herald or online at

Motion to Censure

According to item 11 of the board's Standards of Conduct, the board is able to discipline members for violations, “using, as a final measure of discipline, censure or removal from the position.”

The board cannot legally remove one of its members. Censure, a formal statement of disapproval, is the most severe form of punishment the board can perform, as stated in the standards.

Meinhard listed four reasons for why the board should censure Wheeler, all of which revolved around concerns regarding the tax lien and Wheeler's subsequent response to requests for information regarding the lien.

Meinhard stated that the first reason was for Wheeler's “failure to pay federal taxes in violation of the board of supervisor's Code of Ethics and Standards of Conducts that he voted in favor of in both 2012 and 2013.”

The second reason was because of Wheeler's “failure and refusal to respond appropriately and in a timely manner” to a FOIA request for the written statement read by him during the board's March meeting.

The third reason was for Wheeler's “failure and refusal to respond appropriately and in a timely manner” to Meinhard's own requests for tax information from Wheeler.

The fourth reason was for Wheeler's “failure and apparent refusal to abide by the oath of office.”

Meinhard later explained to The Herald that he requested from Wheeler both a copy of the written statement and copies of information from the IRS to show what he's doing to resolve his unpaid taxes.

Although board members are required to complete a Virginia Financial Interest Statement, in order to reveal any possible conflicts of interests, personal tax information is protected at both the state and federal level and cannot be requested through FOIA.

Meinhard concluded his concerns, “Such conduct has been and is an embarrassment to the citizens of the Fifth District of Cumberland County, the board of supervisors and the citizens of Cumberland County as a whole.”

Wheeler immediately spoke following the motion, saying, “Well, I will hold my response to that until our next regularly scheduled meeting, Mr. Chairman.”

Ingle then asked Meinhard to withdraw his motion, pointing out that he thought many of the things in Meinhard's motion were “legal issues that we're not prepared to deal with at this level, here. I don't see that the motion is suitable at this point and time, because if there are any legal issues that are out there, then they need to be dealt with through the legal system…as far as FOIA and things like that.”

Ingle concluded his comments by asking Meinhard to retract his motion and give Wheeler an opportunity to address the issues next month.

Osl also pointed out that the board's By-Laws state, “that the board will pay special attention to protecting the rights of each individual member of the board, county administrator, employees and the public, preserving and assuring a spirit of harmony and cooperation within the board and between individual board members.”

He continued, “I think this is the kind of discussion that should have taken place in a closed session, not in a public session, until we've had an opportunity to discuss it amongst ourselves…”

However, FOIA outlines which topics board members can and cannot discuss in closed session. The board may discuss such matters as personnel, legal issues and negotiations in closed session.

The matter of censure of a board member, in and of itself, is not a topic that board members could have legally discussed in closed session, even if they had so desired.

The board's Code of Ethics affirms this, stating in item 12, that the board will only use closed sessions “to deal with the sensitive personnel, legal matters, contractual matters.”

The Court Case

The Honorable Daniel T. Balfour, retired judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, was recently designated by the Supreme Court of Virginia to hear a case brought against Wheeler by the citizens of the Fifth District.

The case is the result of a petition filed in the circuit court, requesting the removal of Wheeler from his office as supervisor.

Once a petition is submitted, the Virginia Code lists specific reasons for the removal of an elected official by the court. While “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence” are listed as reasons, such actions must have had a “material adverse effect” upon the conduct of the office.

Following the meeting, when asked if he believed that a supervisor having unpaid taxes had a material adverse effect on their ability to function on the board, Meinhard responded, “in terms of the example it sets for everybody else in the community, yes.”

“I am much or more concerned about his failure to respond to these Freedom of Information Act [requests],” he added.

Point of Order

The discussion of Meinhard's two motions during the end of the meeting was punctuated by interruptions from a Fifth District citizen in attendance, Coy Leatherwood, who spoke from his seat.

Leatherwood filed the petition with the Cumberland County Circuit Court requesting Wheeler's removal from the board, which was based partially on the existence of the lien.

Leatherwood asked if he could speak and was informed by the chairman that the public comment period time was over. He later interrupted several times during the discussion.

Although at one time Meinhard responded to one of Leatherwood's comments, the chairman later hit the board table several times to call him to order. When Leatherwood interrupted yet again, a citizen finally called for a point of order.