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Hear No Evil on Trumbo’s Ethics Violations

At the May 8 meeting, Fauquier County BoS Chairman Chester Stribling shut down citizens’ comments on Supervisor Trumbo’s violations of the Fauquier County Code of Ethics.

You can watch the 11-minute video here in which Mr. Stribling said he could shut down “speaking [that] is detrimental to the public process” — in his opinion.  Mr. Stribling also threatened to have citizens removed from the meeting.

Was there disorderly conduct, or did Mr. Stribling intimidate citizens to censor them?  Watch the video and decide for yourself.

The First Amendment does not protect citizens’ engaging in disorderly conduct at public meetings, but its threshold is higher than what many government officials would prefer – which is why it is part of our “fundamental and paramount law,” a term Fauquier resident Chief Justice John Marshall used to describe the Constitution in Marbury v. Madison.

Government officials may not carve out their own exceptions to the First Amendment to cover for themselves or their colleagues.

Also, did the BoS violate Virginia’s Open Meetings Act by deciding in advance of the May 8 meeting to sweep under the rug Mr. Trumbo’s violations of the Code of Ethics?

One purpose of the CoE is “that the public can continue to have full confidence in the integrity of government.”  The BoS refuses to take action on this violation, which could be easily addressed with some official, fair and commensurate public sanction.  Unless the BoS acts publicly on this in an accountable way, what “integrity of government” may citizens expect on any matter?

We need the BoS to vote on whether Mr. Trumbo violated the Code of Ethics as a sign of respect to the public they claim to serve.

Here is a letter sent to Mr. Stribling about these potential violations of law, and his disregard for the public process.

Dear Mr. Stribling,

At the May 8 Fauquier County Board of Supervisors meeting, citizens politely and respectfully presented their concerns that Supervisor Holder Trumbo engaged in conduct that violates the Code of Ethics.  Here is a video of relevant potions.

You were previously presented with a Resolution (a full copy of which is below at I) stating that “it has become an issue in the media that a Republican member of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors has made abusive personal attacks on members of the public via the Internet.”  The Resolution petitioned the BoS “to formally reprimand/censure any member who has breached their Code of Ethics.”  I also provide relevant portions of the Code of Ethics below at II.

Throughout the hearing, you seemed to ignore the main issue, which is whether Mr. Trumbo violated the Code of Ethics (not acted “inappropriately” (your term), which is not a formal charge).

Holder_trumbo_croppedTwo young children spoke at the meeting.  One adult read some of the Internet comments of Mr. Trumbo.  Mr. Trumbo’s comments included:  critics “will need to wear Kevlar,” and that some citizens are “freaks,” “a cult,” “losers,” and not having “most of their original teeth.”  You did not allow another presenter to read the Resolution aloud.

Despite what I see was orderly and respectful presentations by citizens seeking redress of their concerns — especially given the offensive, abusive and sometimes personal nature of Mr. Trumbo’s written attacks on citizens — you shut down further public comments.  You claimed that your aim was to avoid “personal attacks,” and I presume you meant against your colleague who was alleged to have violated the Code of Ethics.

Although it appears from the video that only one person not at the podium spoke out of turn, you threatened to have “people removed.”  I see from the video no evidence of disorderly conduct commensurate with the need to threaten to remove people from the meeting, even at a meeting obviously planned by the BoS about a highly charged and emotional topic.  It seems that you engaged in intimidation rather than preserving order, and later you seemed to acknowledge the potential for this perception.

You also later stated that although it is people’s “God-given right” to speak, you justified your censorship as prohibiting “speaking that is detrimental to the public process” — in your opinion.  The speakers, of course, were addressing the public business of enforcing the Code of Ethics.  It is curious you consider that detrimental to the public process.

You also state at 8:22 of the video that “we have, as a board, taken discussion of that,” meaning Mr. Trumbo’s comments.

Virginia Code Section 2.2-3707 requires that meetings of the BoS be open to the public.  Subsection I requires minutes of such meetings.

I respectfully request a copy of the minutes of the BoS meeting at which Mr. Trumbo’s matter was discussed as you stated at the May 8 meeting.  If no minutes exist, perhaps the county attorney could contact me to discuss whether there was a violation of the open meetings law, and what a fair remedy might be.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Mark J. Fitzgibbons

Attachments

I.   RESOLUTION

A RESOLUTION CALLING ON REPUBLICAN ELECTED OFFICIALS TO CONDUCT THEMSELVES IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER, AND URGING THE FAUQUIER BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO TAKE SERIOUSLY THEIR CODE OF ETHICS

WHEREAS, one of the primary objectives of the Fauquier County Young Republicans (FCYRs) is to bring young people into the Republican Party; and

WHEREAS, Republican elected officials in public office are considered representatives of the Republican Party in the eyes of the public; and

WHEREAS, abusive and/or inappropriate conduct on the part of Republican elected officials in public office creates a negative impression of the Republican Party in the eyes of the public, and therefore hinders the efforts and mission of the FCYRs; and

WHEREAS, the Fauquier County government has adopted a Code of Ethics which reads in part: “The professional and personal conduct of members must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other members of the Board of Supervisors, boards, commissions, and committees, the staff or public.”; and

WHEREAS, the Code of Ethics further states in part: “The Board of Supervisors may impose sanctions on members whose conduct does not comply with the County’s ethical standards, such as reprimand, formal censure, loss of seniority or committee assignment, or budget restriction.”; and

WHEREAS, it has become an issue in the media that a Republican member of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors has made abusive personal attacks on members of the public via the Internet; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED by the Fauquier County Young Republicans this 8th day of April in the year of Our Lord 2014, that the FCYRs call on all Republican elected officials within our county to conduct themselves in a professional manner in all public spheres at all times so as not to tarnish the image of the Republican Party; and be it

RESOLVED FURTHER that the Fauquier County Young Republicans urge the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors to take seriously their Code of Ethics; and be it

RESOLVED FINALLY that the Fauquier Young Republicans call on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors to formally reprimand/censure any member who has breached their Code of Ethics.

II.  Code of Ethics and relevant portions:

Entire Fauquier County Code of Ethics HERE.

The professional and personal conduct of members must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other members of the Board of Supervisors, boards, commissions, and committees, the staff or public.

Members shall prepare themselves for public issues; listen courteously and attentively to all public discussions before the body; and focus on the business at hand. They shall refrain from interrupting other speakers; making personal comments not germane to the business of the body; or otherwise interfering with the orderly conduct of meetings.

The Fauquier County Code of Ethics expresses standards of ethical conduct expected of members of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, boards, committees and commissions. Members themselves have the primary responsibility to assure that ethical standards are understood and met, and that the public can continue to have full confidence in the integrity of government.

The chairs of boards, committees and commissions and the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors have the additional responsibility to intervene when actions of members that appear to be in violation of the Code of Ethics are brought to their attention.

The Board of Supervisors may impose sanctions on members whose conduct does not comply with the County’s ethical standards, such as reprimand, formal censure, loss of seniority or committee assignment, or budget restriction. Where allowed by law, the Board of Supervisors also may remove members of Board-appointed boards, committees and commissions from office.

 

 

Comments

comments

2 Responses to Hear No Evil on Trumbo’s Ethics Violations

  1. Anton Afterwit Reply

    May 13, 2014 at 7:25 am

    To All

    I understand the emotion behind the inappropriate treatment of citizens by Mr. Trumbo. Definitely his failure to make a timely apology has exacerbated the situation and caused the citizens to come forward with formal complaints. However, I think there are a couple of issues here to address.

    Ethical Behavior Issue – Definitely there has been an apparent lack of professional conduct by Mr. Trumbo. While some like to focus on the “kevlar” comment, I am more appalled by his apparent disregard for the citizens evidenced by his referring to them as losers and freaks, or they are members of cults. These are not rumors or innuendos, these are from the own posts that Mr. Trumbo made himself.

    The behavior exhibited by Mr. Trumbo reflects poorly on the board as a whole. The code of ethics requires Mr. Trumbo to act with a higher level of professionalism than general citizens, and that it reflect an atmosphere of respect and civility. This lack of respect and civility is the issue which needs to be addressed in whole, and the lack of action by Mr. Trumbo and the remainder of the board to address the issue is disappointing. This whole issue could have been resolved over a month ago with a simple apology at that time instead of allowing it to fester. Better yet, Mr. Trumbo should have taken a deep breath and not made those comments regarding his fellow Citizens.

    Free Speech Issue – Some here are accusing the BOS of stifling free speech by limiting the discussion of Mr. Trumbo and his actions. I will have to take exception to this and remind citizens to review the rules for the “Citizens’ Time” found at http://www.fauquiercounty.gov/documents/departments/bos/pdf/meetingprotocol.pdf. The BOS sets aside 20 minutes near the beginning of each regular board meeting for Citizens’ comments. In the event that more than 4 speakers wish to be heard during Citizens’ Time, the Chairman shall allocate the 20 minutes among the speakers in an equitable manner. The Citizens’ time is an opportunity for Citizens to speak and the Board to listen carefully to citizens’ expressions of concern and opinion.

    I do feel the BOS was wrong in limiting the speech based on the subject being addressed by the Citizens. This time is specifically for them to address their issues and their issue was inappropriate behavior by a sitting Supervisor. So long as the Citizens spoke in a civil manner and addressed their comments to the Chair, they should have been allowed to speak unfettered. I did review the tapes and the comments regarding the use of deputies to remove unruly individuals. This was made at a point where a Citizen (or perhaps a few) broke decorum by interrupting the orderly conduct of the Citizens’ Time. I cannot fault Mr. Stribling for this action. I do hope to see the Citizens’ comments (orally and written) included in the BOS minutes since we were not privileged to those comments handed in that were written and the individuals did not speak.

    Supervisors Are Not Private Citizens – I will have to take exception to the philosophy that Supervisors are allowed to express themselves as private Citizens. Unfortunately for the individuals, when they chose to become an elected official, that position becomes their identity the moment they are elected until the time they leave office. They do not have the luxury of deciding when they want to wear the badge of office and when they do not. They need to remember this and act professionally at all times. This should be made clear through the statement they sign in which they state they understand they will, “Conduct my personal and public affairs with honesty, integrity, fairness and respect for others”.

    At this point I do not think there is a need to belabor the point. The citizens have rightly pointed out the behavior of Mr. Trumbo was unprofessional and reflected poorly on the BOS as a whole. The BOS has failed to take action to publicly chastise or censure Mr. Trumbo for his actions choosing to ignore the disrespectful words used to label Citizens. The BOS was mostly fair in the conduct of the hearing on this matter but inappropriately limited the Citizens’ input on the matter.

    While this issue may be considered resolved at this time, the Citizens have the final word. There will be an election in the future, and Mr. Trumbo along with the other BOS members should remember that this issue will be brought up again publicly.

  2. Rick Jones Reply

    May 11, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Mark, your money grubbing media hound BS continues to sicken and disgust the people of this county. Your extremely liberal wife must have coordinated some dinners for you and Gov McAuliffe to compare your lobbing and fundraising notes.

    Trumbo will face his constituents at the ballot box is less than 2 years. My guess is they will send him packing. Your continuing insinuation that the BOS can remove one of the members shows your lack of knowledge of the current VA Constitution. It’s sensationalism is also an insult to the intelligence of the citizens of Fauquier County.

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