Happy New Year, BOS! Board of Supervisors face new conflict of interest violation charges

Attorney David Konick files fourth suit since 2016 against the Rappahannock County government

Just in time to celebrate the New Year, another lawsuit alleging wrongdoing by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors has arrived in county inboxes.

Filed by Harris Hollow resident George Sonnett, and represented by local attorney David Konick, the Petition for Declaratory Judgment charges three Rappahannock supervisors and County Attorney Art Goff with violating the state’s Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) on several occasions last year when considering the appointment of Peter Luke as Deputy County Attorney — ironically to help handle the workload of previous lawsuits filed against Rappahannock County by certain residents.

Konick declined to comment beyond what was stated in the new petition. Sonnett could not be reached for comment.

This makes the fourth suit filed against the BOS or individual members since 2016. Gid Brown Hollow llama farmer Marian Bragg sued the BOS in 2016 and in 2017, both times alleging that the supervisors violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The first Bragg v the BOS (filed in 2016 and referred to locally as Bragg 1) alleges violations of public notification before the supervisors went into closed session to consider hiring a county attorney. Bragg 2, filed in 2017, charges that the BOS did not properly advertise and consider candidates for the county administrator in the fall of 2017. Former interim County Administrator Brenda Garton is also a named party in Bragg 2.

In a petition filed Oct. 2, 2017, Amissville resident Tom Woolman accused Hampton district Supervisor John Lesinski of repeatedly violating Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) in his official capacities as Rappahannock County School Board chairman and supervisor, by either not disqualifying himself from certain transactions or failing to disclose his economic interests in the transactions, as required by law.

Bragg, Woolman, and Sonnett are all represented by Konick, who Luke was hired to help defend against because of the increased workload the county now is dealing with. The suits are working their way through Rappahannock County Circuit Court.

Sonnett’s petition alleges that Supervisors Lesinski, Chris Parrish (Stonewall-Hawthorne) and Chair Roger Welch (Wakefield) violated COIA by not stating “personal interests” they had in Luke’s hiring.

In July, August, and December 2018 BOS meetings, the supervisors voted on resolutions to hire Luke — or extend his employment — as Deputy County Attorney.

“Among Mr. Luke’s proposed duties,” says the petition, “was acting as counsel in [Bragg 1]” to the Board itself as well as the three individual members of the Board named in Sonnett’s petition.

The first count of Sonnett’s petition claims that the members of the Board “had or may have realize[d] a reasonably foreseeable direct or indirect benefit . . . by authorizing counsel fees in excess of approximately Fifty-Two Thousand Eight Hundred dollars (USD $52,800.00) at taxpayers’ expense to defend them in their individual capacities” in Bragg 1. Goff, on the other hand, would benefit “in the pending litigation by being relieved, in whole or in part, of duties he is otherwise required to perform as County Attorney and as counsel in Bragg 1.”

Therefore, reads the count, the supervisors and Goff should have “disclose[d] their respective personal interests in the transactions in which each had any personal interest under the Conflicts Act and make a public declaration that he was ‘able to participate in the transaction fairly, objectively, and in the public interest’ in order to take advantage of one or more of the conditional exemptions set forth” in the code.

“Because the vote by each of the three aforementioned Respondents who are members of the Board was unlawful and in violation of the Conflicts Act,” count two asks that the court declare the vote of the BOS to approve Luke’s employment null and void.

Count three calls for Goff to recuse himself from defending the BOS in Bragg 1 and for the court to appoint a special prosecutor.

Count four claims that because of the alleged failure of Goff and the named supervisors to comply with COIA, Sonnet has suffered “actual and special damages and incurred attorney’s fees . . .”

A court date has not yet been scheduled for a preliminary hearing.

About Patty Hardee 277 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.