PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg City Council Tuesday night decided in a 5-2 vote that taxpayers should pick up the tab for two council members fighting to save their seats from a recall. Council also suspended public comment before the vote.
You may recall Mayor Sam Parham and Council Member Howard Myers are wrapped up in a legal battle to keep their seats after citizens filed petitions with the courts to have them removed from office. Well, now those very citizens signing the petitions will be left with the bill regardless of the outcome.
“We really went overboard this time with breaking all those rules,” council member Treska Wilson-Smith told 8News. “I just thought that the vote to pay for the attorneys was actually wrong.”
Wilson-Smith voted against footing the attorney bill.
Not only did the vote happen, but council voted unanimously to suspend the rules of council that would have required a public debate. Citizens had zero input.
“The concern that I had was that if you are going to spend the public’s money to do this, then the public needs to have the opportunity to speak about it,” Wilson-Smith said.
So, why did Wilson-Smith herself vote to suspend that very rule?
“My colleague gave me an explanation that did not turn out to be true, so therefore I went along with it, but we did suspend the rules of council,” Wilson-Smith explained.
“Do you feel you were bamboozled?” asked 8 News Reporter Parker Slaybaugh.
“Well somewhat, but mistakes happen,” Wilson-Smith replied.
Wilson-Smith says what added insult to injury is the two members who would benefit from the attorney fees being covered, Mayor Parham and Council Member Myers, even voted on the measure. Something many are calling a conflict of interest.
“It is addressed in our city charter, you don’t vote on things you would benefit from,” Wilson-Smith said.
The ACLU issed the following statement to 8News:
“The ACLU of Virginia would have serious concerns about participation in any vote by elected officials who themselves would be beneficiaries of that action, as appears to be the case here. Further, Petersburg City Council’s suspension of its own rules to exclude public comment on this matter raises significant ethical and procedural, if not legal, questions. This continued pattern of the council’s blatant disregard for the public interest clearly continues to erode trust between the local government and its citizens.”
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.