Someone should step up to let the public in

A version of this entry was published in the Bristol Herald Courier, Sept. 1, 2018.


Strange doings are afoot in Bristol. Citizens there, who own the right to elect and reject their council members at the ballot box, are being cut-out of an attempt to remove one of those members.

According to an article in the Bristol Herald Courier, during a break in Tuesday’s city council meeting, council members had a document served on a fellow member, Doug Fleenor, that Fleenor later said seeks his removal from office.

According to the article, there was no mention of the document during the nearly 4-hour public meeting, which included three separate closed sessions, including one for “personnel.”

The city manager, Randy Eads, later confirmed that Fleenor was served with paperwork, but he would not describe or characterize the document, nor would he provide the Herald Courier with a copy.

Meanwhile, Fleenor has said the document accuses him of neglect of duty and malfeasance in office, and has indicated he likely won’t fight an attempt to remove him. Yet, he has not released the document either.

Fleenor acknowledged to the Herald Courier that he has often missed meetings and that he sometimes gets “a little emotional.” He also opposed as “arbitrary and capricious” a move to approve various guidelines for the conduct of public meetings that included provisions asking members to “focus on issues and avoid use of abusive, threatening and intimidating language or gestures.” But he has also opposed council practices that he believes smack of conflicts of interest and backdoor lobbying.

I don’t know Fleenor. I don’t know whether he is a saint or a son-of-a-b****. What I do know, though, is that Fleenor was elected to office by citizens of Bristol. So were all the other council members. And yet, those same citizens are being asked to accept an upending of their legislative body without being told why.

Neither Eads nor Fleenor is prohibited from disclosing the mystery document. The personnel exemption for records is discretionary, meaning they have a choice about whether to release it.

Either or both of the sides in this internecine strife need to step up and let the public in. They are the ones who will be impacted by a reconfiguration of the current board. Some may rejoice, others may be distraught. All should be afforded the opportunity to know what’s going on.

UPDATE: Eads distributed a press release yesterday (Aug. 30) saying the city charter prohibited release of the document unless Fleenor gave his permission, but that Fleenor was at liberty to disclose it. Interestingly, the release also said, "The City anticipates the media to have a court to weigh in on this matter to resolve this issue between the City Charter and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act."

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