The lawyer and self-described watchdog who’s been pursuing a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) request from the town of Washington said this week the town has complied, or is in the process of complying, with all his requests.
Attorney David Konick said yesterday (Wednesday, March 18) that he will not yet file a petition in circuit court to force the town to comply with his Feb. 21 FOIA request for all documents and emails related to the apparently faulty 2013 actions the town took to participate in a partnership with the Inn at Little Washington and Trinity Episcopal Church to beautify the “town square.”
That’s what the principals call the intersection of Main and Middle streets — site of the church’s recently renovated and repaved parking lot and, just across Middle Street, the front entrance of the five-star restaurant and inn that brings in an estimated 80 percent (an estimate because actual percentages are not publicly available) of the almost $300,000 in meals-and-lodging tax revenue taken in annually by the town.
The town’s nearly two-year-old actions that critics, including Konick, have attacked over the last few months, via email bulletin board and in print, include the town council’s June 2013 appropriation of $20,000 toward what the Inn described in 2013 as a $160,000 to $180,000 project to renovate and repave the Trinity lot, which it leases from the church for its customers.
The accusations are driven by a belief shared by Konick, Harris Hollow resident Ben Jones and others that the town government’s dealings with the Inn — and others who have recently attempted to launch development projects in town, including White Moose Inn owner Jim Abdo — are not as transparent as they ought to be.
On the other hand, as several town council members and town residents have noted, none of the town’s actions over the past two years, on Abdo’s projects or others, were decided in anything but public meetings.
At its last meeting March 11, the town council and Mayor John Sullivan promised a “second look” at the $20,000 transaction as well as Konick’s and others’ second charge — that the town’s July 2013 decision to abandon and deed the 171-foot stub end of Middle Street west of Main to the Inn — was defective.
The Inn owns the properties on all three sides of the stub street, including the Krebser building that houses a U.S. Post Office. Inn attorney David Fiske said earlier this month that the beautification project, which was to include the stub street, has been delayed in part by ongoing lease negotiations with the U.S. Postal Service, which both the Inn and the Postal Service have publicly said they wish to remain in the building.
Sullivan, a letter from town attorney John Bennett in hand, admitted March 11 that the two measures likely had legal problems, though he said the council never intended to do break any laws (including Virginia’s long-standing church-state separation laws, which forbid public bodies to appropriate funds to churches).
With its town attorney overseas and unavailable, the council delayed action on those two matters until its next meeting April 13. Konick had filed a supplemental request for all of the emails from town council member Patrick O’Connell — the Inn’s co-founder 38 years ago, its chef and proprietor and a member of the town council — and “copies of all conflict of interest disqualification forms by any Town Council members relating to this matter as required by State Law.”
Konick said he met with Bennett Monday (March 16), and was told by the town attorney that the supplemental request would also be fulfilled.
“We’re taking all three subjects seriously,” Sullivan said yesterday by phone, referring to the $20,000 appropriation, the stub street abandonment and the unspoken implication of Konick’s most recent FOIA requests — that O’Connell, as both the Inn’s proprietor and a town council member, violated conflict-of-interest laws by being involved in any discussions preceding the council’s 2013 actions.
“We’ve already acknowledged that there was a problem with the motion regarding the church parking lot, and will address that, and the stub street, lawyers are will dealing with that.
“And regarding the third piece of it,” Sullivan said, “I don’t have an opinion or comment.”
Through a spokesperson Wednesday, O’Connell said he had no comment to make on any issues related to the town-beautification project.