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).
Two 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.
Mark J. Fitzgibbons
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.