Group calls Petersburg council vote ‘highly unethical’

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- A surprise Petersburg City Council vote Tuesday night has folks buzzing after one member made a motion to suspend city council rules.

After the council went into a five-minute recess, the members voted to suspend council rules so there would be no citizen comment period.

Then the council voted 5-2 for a motion to hire a law firm to represent Mayor Sam Parham and councilman Howard Myers.

The vote came after Clean Sweep Petersburg, a government Watch Dog Group coordinated a petition drive and then submitted the signed petitions to Circuit Court in an effort to have the pair removed from office.

"I think they had a strong personal stake in the vote," Barb Rudolph, Clean Sweep Petersburg co-founder, said.

Rudolph was in the audience when the council took the unusual five-minute recess before voting to suspend the rules.

Petersburg City Council

Petersburg City Council

Council member Treska Wilson-Smith was concerned about the vote.

"I think it looks bad. It looks self serving...," Wilson-Smith said. "You're voting to spend the city's money on yourself. I think that's highly unethical."

Wilson-Smith's vote was one of the two no votes on the measure.

Many voiced concern that Parham and Myers may have violated the city's code of ethics by taking part in the vote.

"You would think that either the individuals would recuse themselves or they'd abstain since it affects them directly," Rudolph said.

Petersburg Code of Ethics

Petersburg Code of Ethics

On the other hand, Parham maintained hiring the law firm will benefit the city.

"It's all about bringing the truth out to the citizens here in Petersburg," Parham said. "It's time for us really to take serious these allegations. And that's what last night city council did is definitely protecting the integrity of the council."

In addition, the mayor said he appreciated the members who voted for the measure.

"I appreciate Councilman Cuthbert, Hill and Vice Mayor Hart for standing with us because they understand that... it could have been anyone of them, as well, who could be facing a recall petition."

The Commonwealth's Attorney for Petersburg has been contacted to look into the matter of possible ethics violations.

The ACLU of Virginia released the following about the vote.

"The ACLU of Virginia would have serious concerns about participation in any vote by elected officials who themselves would be beneficiaries of that action, as appears to be the case here. Further, Petersburg City Council's suspension of it's own rules to exclude public comment on this matter raises significant ethical and procedural, if not legal, questions. This continued pattern of the council's blatant disregard for the public interest clearly continues to erode trust between the local government and its citizens."

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