Supervisors, county attorneys wrangle over Bragg suits against government

‘You could do a lot better for yourself if you just toned it down’

Things were moving along smoothly at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting — public comments heard, presentations made, appointments announced, just routine business. Too smoothly, it turns out.

Almost two hours into the afternoon session, several agenda items touched off an argumentative debate between Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier, Piedmont Supervisor Christine Smith, and County Attorney Art Goff about the county’s progress in adjudicating Marian Bragg v the Board of Supervisors.

Bragg, a Gid Brown Hollow llama farmer, alleged in her 2016 suit (known locally as Bragg 1, for the first of two suits she has filed against the BOS) that the Board of Supervisors violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on several occasions. The suit charges violations of public notification before the supervisors went into closed sessions to consider hiring a Rappahannock County Attorney in 2016.

The first agenda item was to extend Peter Luke’s employment as Deputy County Attorney until July 31, 2019. Goff told the BOS that Luke was valuable for his institutional knowledge of the county and Bragg 1.

“The Board is well served by his continual involvement,” Goff said.

Smith wanted to know why progress had not been made toward seeking settlement in the time since a BOS August vote authorizing Luke’s services.

Goff explained that four or five times he had asked David Konick, Bragg’s attorney, to suggest settlement terms, but that Konick had not responded. When Frazier asked why Goff didn’t suggest terms himself, Goff said, “Why should we bid against ourselves? We should wait until we know Mr. Konick’s number.”

In a raised voice, Frazier repeatedly interrupted and challenged Goff and others until chair Roger Welch had to call order.

“You could do a lot better for yourself if you just toned it down,” Welch told Frazier, even as Frazier continued to argue.

Frazier questioned why he had been subpoenaed for a deposition and not the other members of the board.

“You singled me out,” Frazier said to Goff.

“I’m not going to subpoena my own clients,” Goff replied. He pointed out that Frazier was not a party to the suit. When the suit was filed, Konick offered to exempt any member of the board who chose to admit they had violated FOIA in the ways alleged by Bragg. Frazier was the only BOS member who took the offer.

In an email Wednesday, Frazier said “[Goff] stated they wanted their information under oath and the insinuation is I might otherwise lie.”

Goff said in his own email on Wednesday, “I told [Frazier] that he received a subpoena from us because he is carrying water for Konick. I consider him to be an adverse witness against the Board and my individual clients. The purpose of discovery is to find out what a witness will say at trial and what documents he or she may have relevant to the issues. It is therefore incumbent upon me to get that information in advance of trial through the use of subpoenas and depositions which are answered under oath and subject to the penalty of perjury.”

The argument continued until Parrish and Lesinski moved to approve the resolution to extend Luke’s employment, but to change the end to coincide with the county’s fiscal year end on June 30.

The resolution passed with a four to one vote, Smith being the lone dissenter.

Frazier then announced that he would be retaining his own attorney and that he planned to use the county’s litigation fund.

Goff, in his email, addressed that point.

“As to the litigation fund,” Goff said, “Frazier is not a defendant in the Bragg I case, and therefore, he is not legally entitled to use County litigation fund money to pay for his own private attorney.”

Attorney Mike Brown, co-counsel to the BOS in Bragg 1, attempted to review the status of the case. Frazier asked why the Board had not been consulted about the litigation.

“There is no requirement for counsel to come back to the Board for approval of every motion and pleading,” said Brown. “Once it begins, litigation has to happen at its own pace.”

Brown also explained that he would be glad to approach Konick with a settlement offer, if the Board could decide the terms it would accept.

 Committee reports

  • The County Buildings Committee, chaired by Frazier and Lesinski, reported that the courthouse wheelchair ramp was complete. Temporary railings would be replaced shortly.

They also said that the county is working through the process of choosing an engineering firm and other contractors to assess and complete the repair and restoration work on the county’s buildings.

  • Lesinski, Broadband Committee chair, reported that he and Curry had been meeting with broadband providers to see what might be a “good fit for the county.” Lesinski said that the county would likely have to “come to the table with a financial program” in the form of grants, municipal bonds, or a public-private partnership.
  • Frazier, Rules Committee chair, said that his group had been working on a code of conduct and ethics for the county based on that used by Madison County. The Rappahannock code would apply to the BOS, its employees, and boards and commissions appointed by the BOS.

Other business

The board voted unanimously in favor of:

  • A resolution requesting the VDOT Commissioner to designate Route 729, Ben Venue Road, as through truck restricted. For several years, the residents of Ben Venue Road — the 3.5 mile portion of Route 729 between Routes 211 in Ben Venue and 522 in Flint Hill — have complained about the amount of heavy truck traffic using the road as a cut through.

The process for the designation will be similar to that used to restrict trucks on Water Street in Sperryville. The resolution sets the stage for VDOT to begin its engineering studies and traffic analyses along Ben Venue. (Disclosure: Patty Hardee lives on ben Venue and is one of the neighbors requesting VDOT’s action).

  • A five-year special exception permit for Windsor Lodge Stables north of Flint Hill to operate a conference center and event venue. The applicant can hold four events per calendar year and must notify Flint Hill/Washington Fire and Rescue, VDOT, and the Sheriff’s Office at least 30 days prior to the date of each event of 50 people or more.
  • A resolution supporting the reinstatement of a Head Start program and associated funding in Rappahannock County.

An unedited video of the meeting can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 260 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.

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