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.”