The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has found itself in a partisan fight over meetings, both public and behind closed doors.

The disagreement appears to have started with individual supervisors trying to respond to protests held in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. It became more complicated with a closed-door session to review Freedom of Information Act laws with the county attorney — a meeting opposed by the board’s three Republicans, who refused to participate.

Five members of the Prince William board attended a community meeting May 31 on use of police force during a Manassas-area protest the previous evening. The three supervisors who weren’t invited, all Republicans, are upset that the Democrats attended the event.

“I don't think we should dance around the fact that five members were at a public meeting and three members didn't know about it,” Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said at the board’s meeting June 2. She wasn’t invited, along with Pete Candland of the Gainesville District and Yesli Vega of the Coles District.

The meeting was organized by the county’s police department. During an emergency board meeting later in the afternoon May 31, attended by all members, Prince William police Lt. Col. Jarad Phelps apologized to board members who were not invited.

The state’s law on public meetings requires public notice when three or more members of the board are meeting and discussing policy. Chair Ann Wheeler told InsideNoVa on Tuesday that the five supervisors didn’t violate the state’s law on meetings. 

“This idea that the board held secret meetings behind closed doors is just not true,” Wheeler said, noting that about 60 people were in the room.

She said she wasn’t aware other supervisors were going to attend the meeting. Wheeler was monitoring the protests on May 30 and requested a meeting with Phelps. 

In response to a text message from Wheeler, County Executive Christopher Martino said she could meet with Phelps at 12:30 p.m. and noted another meeting hosted by Police Chief Barry Barnard.

“Chief Barnard has also scheduled a 1:00 meeting with a few community leaders which I believe you should be at,” Martino said in the text conversation provided to InsideNoVa by Wheeler. 

Wheeler said during the meeting June 2 supervisors attended the meeting to listen to the public in a time of crisis. “I was glad I heard from the community in that time,” Wheeler said. 

At the end of the meeting June 2, the board considered a motion to go into closed session to hear from the county’s attorney on the rules around public meetings.

County Attorney Michelle Robl told the board she wanted to talk to the board and give legal advice in closed session, and she also wanted to provide advice about the board sending emails to the entire board and having a discussion over email. 

State law allows for a closed session “regarding specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice.”

In a 5-3 vote, the board approved a resolution to enter into closed session for “consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members pertaining to legal advice regarding public body meetings and the Freedom of Information Act, where consultation, briefing, or discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the litigating posture of the Board, or the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”

Wheeler and supervisors Victor Angry, D-Neabsco; Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac; Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan; and Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, voted to enter closed session.

Lawson, Candland and Vega voted against the resolution, arguing the discussion should be held in public. In a rare move for the board, the three Republicans didn’t join the rest of the board in closed session. 

Wheeler told InsideNoVa she expects Robl to make a presentation to the board on FOIA during an upcoming public meeting. 

(11) comments

Soily

This is the way leftists work. Sneak around and conduct business with special interests (self-assigned leaders of the minority community), and leave other interests unaware. They use intimidation, similar to what the Mafia did in the early 20th Century with Italian immigrants, to keep diverse opinions from being spoken and to keep the black community in line. Who is going to risk harm to themselves, their job or their business to object? Even worse, media often aids and abets in the scheme doing just the opposite of what the intent of media was in the US Constitution, to shine light on government actions.

icrazyhorse

The article says the three Republican Board members "refused to participate." I do not see a problem here - apparently it was the Republican Board member's choice not to attend the meeting.

Bawahaha

Nice try Comrade. The story stated that the closed-door session to review Freedom of Information Act laws with the county attorney, a meeting opposed by the board’s three Republicans, who thought it should be an open session, was the meeting they refused to participate in.

At the meeting on May 31, only the five DemocRAT members of the Prince William board were in attendance, the meeting where the use of police force during a Manassas-area protest the previous evening was discussed. The three Republicans supervisors were not invited or notified, which is ILLEGAL. The state’s law on public meetings requires public notice when three or more members of the board are meeting and discussing policy. No notice was given.

Antonio Marisol

icrazyhorse,

What the Republicans refused to participate in what the sham closed session meeting last Tuesday, not the community meeting on May 31st that discussed police policy and the response to the riots the evening before.

Nice try though.

Soily

Read the article. They were not informed about the other "community meeting". The majority wants to keep their misdeeds under wraps.

todd6263

No problem with them being blatantly excluded from the other meeting they weren't told about? Take off your blinders and put down the KoolAid.

Cultured2014

so the democrats on the board want to keep things under wraps..seems legit. communist party in the soviet union held their meetings in private too, so they have a good role model

covid2021

This article is somewhat confusing as you can see from the comment above by crazyhorse Mr. Ed who didn't understand it... It is twisted to try and make Republicans look bad. Democrats want these people to have more control over their(our) lives...more backroom deals by the democrat party.

Antonio Marisol

One caveat - InsideNova wants these people to have more control over our lives.

Allen Muchnick

Upon careful reading of this article, I fail to detect any improper action on the part of Chair Wheeler or the board's Democratic majority. The May 31 gathering was not a policy-making meeting and was public.

It just seems that some or all of the three BOCS Republicans are trying to manufacture a divisive political controversy.

Most local matters are not partisan. For everyone's benefit, the BOCS should actively seek to minimize partisan rancor and ill will.

Antonio Marisol

Yes, because Emily Sides, in typical Emily Sides style, purposefully wrote the article to make the Democrats look least bad as possible to cover for their crimes. There is zero doubt the Democrats broke the law here. You CANNOT have three or more members of any body in the same room debating policy at an unadvertised meeting. Period. Glad to hear a lawsuit was filed against these criminals today.

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