Pete Candland April 2021

Supervisor Pete Candland speaks outside the Prince William supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

A Prince William County man is suing Supervisor Pete Candland for allegedly violating his constitutional rights by deleting Facebook comments as the fight over the PW Digital Gateway spills into other arenas.

Patrick Harders filed a lawsuit against Candland July 15 in U.S. District Court alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments on Candland’s district Facebook page.

Harders claims Candland has “repeatedly censored dissenting views” on the page. He says Candland is blocking certain comments to minimize ongoing criticism related to the PW Digital Gateway.

Last summer, landowners along Pageland Lane submitted a request to change the land designation of their properties in the Comprehensive Plan from agricultural zoning to technology zoning. The request on 2,100 acres could pave the way for 27.6 million square feet of data centers, nearly as much data center space as is currently in use or under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the world’s largest concentration of such facilities.

The Coalition to Protect Prince William County has launched a recall petition for Candland over his involvement with the controversial proposal and Board Chair Ann Wheeler for her financial ties to the data center industry.

“Candland is currently under scrutiny for his actions related to Data Centers in and around his district, which he is alleged to be influencing to effect a windfall of profit for himself,” the lawsuit says.

Candland told InsideNoVa, “To the best of my knowledge, no comment has ever been deleted from the Supervisor Pete Candland Facebook page and no person has ever been banned from accessing the page.”

“I welcome on the Facebook page any comments from Mr. Harders or anyone else, whether they be in opposition or in support of my actions as a member of the Board,” Candland said in an emailed statement. “I believe anyone who reviews my page over the last few years will see a robust debate of opinions within the comment sections.”

Candland said his page is managed by his staff, so he is working with them to gather more information on the situation.

Harders’ exhibits show one comment he wrote under Candland’s post about Patriots Day, a celebration Candland spearheaded around the Fourth of July to celebrate first responders.

Harders’ comment criticizes Board Chair Ann Wheeler, saying Wheeler wouldn’t come if the celebration was “actually celebrating America’s independence.” The comment is no longer present on a later screenshot included in the lawsuit.

Harders claims he was blocked from Candland’s page for a week and other people had their comments removed.

The second comment allegedly removed was from Josh Palmer. It is unclear under which post he commented, but he asked Candland, “Why did you break your campaign promise?! … Then throw a party to distract from your deceit.”

The comment is later not shown on a second screenshot. 

The lawsuit requests damages to be awarded by a jury. No hearings have been scheduled.

As of Friday, the Candland recall petition had about 550 signatures, and the Wheeler petition had about 300. 

Candland’s petition requires at least 1,796 signatures, and Wheeler’s needs 11,209.

Wheeler recently used the recall in a fundraising email, saying the petition was started by “opponents of progressive change.”

“This recall event represents the ultimate effort to fight the progress this Democratic majority board has been making from day one in Prince William County,” Wheeler’s email says. “Many people recognize that the effort to recall me is an effort to try to take Prince William County backwards.  Whether it be land-use or social progress, the old guard is fighting change.”

Candland said “a small group of individuals” started the recall petition by “alleging that I have broken the law,” but he denies any wrongdoing.

“While I completely understand why some folks are upset that because of my conflict of interest that I'm unable to vote on PW Digital Gateway, it's disappointing that some folks have taken it a step further alleging that I'm a criminal,” Candland wrote in an email. “Let me be very clear, I have followed the law, to the best of my knowledge, every step of the way and have been as transparent as possible with the people of the Gainesville District.”

 

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

(6) comments

Bill Wright

Pete Candland seems like a personable guy and it’s a shame he brought this upon himself. But he did.

If he had just told his constituents that he had to sell out to the data centers for the good of his family and then stepped down to let someone else represent the Gainesville District, I think people would have respected his decision. But he didn’t do that. He tried to have it both ways. Although his decision to serve his personal interests made him ineligible to serve the public interest, he declined to step aside and left his constituents high and dry in the midst of the most significant land use decision in recent memory. Unprincipled and grossly unfair.

But he didn’t stop there. Despite his requirement to recuse himself from the data center business, he inexplicably stuck his nose into the nascent effort to form another data center assemblage on Sanders Lane, further aggravating the chaos infecting County land use policy.

Now’s he’s apparently editing his public Facebook page to suppress justifiable criticism of his bad judgment.

He’s a self-serving bull-in-the-china-shop and he’s got to go.

Elena Schlossberg

What Pete was doing was actually very sneaky. There is a process by which you can "hide" people's comments. So YOU will think your comment is being displayed for EVERYONE else to see, when, in fact it is hidden.

How do I know this? I was also one of those people who had their comments hidden by my own Supervisor...Pete Candland. I was never obscene or rude, but I was honest in my sense of betrayal.

It WAS on his offiicial government page and it is a cheap trick, beneath the dignity of any elected leader, but ESPECIALLY one that is disqualified from voting on critical issues that impact his constiuents that he said he "would fight tooth and nail to protect the rural crescent"

Please to protectpwc.org and find out how to formally sign the recall petition for both him and Ann Wheeler.

Do people even realize that the industrial corridor along Pageland is spreading like a cancer, not moving onto Catharpin Road AND Sanders lane? The SAME people Pete met with privately to explore how THEY too can sell out.......

Harry Morant

You don't lose your property rights just because you are in public office. It was join the "coalition" of his neighbor properly owners or potentially be an island of land/house surrounded by data centers. Would you do any different? If you say no, you are not being truthful. Completely different situation from Wheeler who used her position on the board for (stock buying) profit. Just like her idol Nanny Pelosi!

Fix Prince William

BTW, his ice cream is bland.

John Dutko

If the posts were on his personal account, then he has the right to remove. If it was done in an official government capacity, making the page an official forum for discourse, then Candland is in the wrong.

However, the person making the comments can be held accountable for what they say on that official forum. If the comments were inviting engaging discourse on a subject, then there is no problem. If they are deemed to be antagonistic and/or potentially violent intent, then the person can be held accountable for what they posted.

On the flip side, the person making the comments could have sought an alternative social media site to voice concerns: "It is important to emphasize that the First Amendment “does not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired.” For that reason, if there is an alternative channel of communication for the desired speech, it may be a suitable alternative even if it is not a perfect substitute for the preferred forum that has been denied. For example, if a user were blocked from posting on a social media platform, alternative channels to make the desired speech might include other social media platforms or different forms of media. "

https://accessiblelaw.untdallas.edu/limits-free-speech-social-media

https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1738/government-use-of-social-media

Fix Prince William

Crook. Just like all the Dems on the Board. Clean house and revote. This board is just as disgusting as it was 20 years ago.

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