Two candidates for Rappahannock County supervisor seats — John Lesinski and Amy Hitt — tout their service on the school board as “experience” suggesting voters should entrust them with even greater power. But what does their track record really show?
In the context of the 2015 “debate” over placing a cell phone tower on school property, Lesinski and Hitt demonstrated a complete disdain for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and made repeated attempts to circumvent the legislation that the General Assembly passed to ensure “that the affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy since the public is supposed to be the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government.”
Lesinski, in secret, obtained a legal opinion on the proposed contract from County Attorney Peter Luke — which Lesinski did not even share with all the other board members, much less the public. The contract review from Luke was extremely unfavorable and revealed many serious legal issues that were not resolved in the final contract.
The school board’s response to the FOIA request revealed that a few months later Lesinski secretly consulted with a Warrenton attorney to review the proposed contract — secretly, because this was apparently authorized in one of the school board’s improperly convened, if not illegal, executive sessions at the end of last summer, and the decision to hire counsel is found nowhere in the school board’s minutes.
It was never voted on in public as required by FOIA. The board paid thousands of taxpayer dollars in penalties on account of the legal violations, but that agreement was also approved in secret — it was never voted on in public nor were the terms ever publicly disclosed. Money that could have gone to some useful educational purpose for our children was squandered on a cover-up of Lesinski’s and Hitt’s disregard for the law and their complete lack of discretion and wisdom.
How bad of a deal was the proposed contract for our school? Well, in 2011, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland approved a contract in which the school system received $25,000 for each tower and 40 percent of the profits. The Lesinski- and Hitt-approved proposed lease was much lower with no percentage of the profits — excluding the legal issues, not a good business deal at all. The question of deliberate circumvention of the school board’s duty to hold public votes on important matters under the leadership of Lesinski and Hitt remains an open issue.
The voters of Hampton and Jackson districts will have to decide whether candidates who have already demonstrated callous disregard for the public involvement should be entrusted with the responsibility of being county supervisors.