A group of Prince William residents is now circulating a petition to have board of county supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart removed from office, targeting the outspoken Republican over his management of a meeting on a controversial mosque project in June.
The new group, known as Save Our PWC, LLC, formally announced an effort to get enough signatures to recall Stewart from office at the board’s Sept. 12 meeting. They will need to collect about 6,700 signatures — the equivalent of 10 percent of the ballots cast in Stewart’s last election in 2015 — to send the matter to the Prince William County Circuit Court for further consideration.
Kay Herrera, one of the group’s founders, said the effort is primarily driven by frustration over Stewart’s stewardship of a series of early-morning votes on June 28 granting the All Dulles Area Muslim Society the permit it needed to build a new mosque in Nokesville. The matter required a series of complex parliamentary procedures to resolve, with an especially heated debate over whether the county should grant the Muslim group (commonly known as ADAMS) access to a public sewer line.
County attorney Michelle Robl wrote in an analysis of the meeting that Stewart and other supervisors violated some of the board’s procedural rules in the process, but didn’t break any laws. Nevertheless, a group of residents living near the proposed mosque site is suing the board to block the permit, and Herrera believes Stewart needs to be held accountable for “abusing his position as chairman” during the meeting.
“There’s just a rising feeling out there that things are not right here,” Herrera said. “You can’t just do whatever you want. You’ve got to follow the rules.”
Stewart, who is also running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, argued that “nothing illegal or unethical was done at that meeting.” He is no stranger to recall petitions either, as he has weathered strong criticism since he first led a push a decade ago to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the county.
“They don’t like the result of that vote, but that’s just too damn bad,” Stewart said. “These petitions, they’ve been coming up for 10 years…and they never go anywhere, because I would have to break the law. I haven’t done that, and I remain popular in this county.”
Stewart also charged that any of his procedural missteps in the meeting were trivial compared to the threat of a federal lawsuit by ADAMS or even the Department of Justice had supervisors denied the mosque public sewer access.
“I think Prince William County dodged a bullet by approving the mosque,” Stewart said. “We couldn’t treat this church differently than we had other churches.”
Those explanations did little to placate Herrera, who charged that Stewart’s disregard of the board’s procedures amounted to “serious bad governance.”
She said she is no’t even upset with the outcome of the mosque vote, necessarily — she and her husband live in the Occoquan area — but she was “shocked and angered” to watch how Stewart managed the meeting on the ADAMS permit, which stretched past 3:30 a.m. June 28.
The more that she spoke with friends and neighbors about the meeting, the more she found others who were similarly concerned with Stewart’s conduct. She said her new group now contains people on both sides of the county, from “all walks of life and no specific political parties.”
“There’s a real unifying feeling out there,” Herrera said. “We just can’t let this kind of behavior slide, especially for the chairman.”
Stewart has attracted plenty of criticism in recent months, both locally and nationally — his response to the violence in Charlottesville attracted widespread condemnations, including a call from the Prince William NAACP that he step down.
But Herrera says this effort is focused on Stewart’s actions specifically as chairman, and she hopes to have a circuit court judge review his conduct someday.
“We’re not focused on politics,” Herrera said. “This affects every person in this county.”
Yet Stewart said he sees a political motive to this effort even still, noting that he sympathizes with the frustration of some Nokesville residents over how the 22,500-square-foot mosque might someday affect the area’s rural character. But with the permit votes rapidly fading in the rearview mirror, he would rather that people just move on.
“Look, I’m not a parliamentarian,” Stewart said. “If another member of board had an objection, they should’ve pursued it. But they didn’t until it was too late.”
Herrera’s recall effort is the second directed at a countywide official in Prince William — a group known as the Prince William Committee for Quality Education has been working since last year to recall school board Chairman Ryan Sawyers, who is also running for Congress as a Democrat.