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City officials allowed to vote if taxpayer money will cover lawsuits

Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 18:43:24-05

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham and Councilman Howard Myers are facing recall petitions to oust them from their leadership positions, and they both voted to have taxpayer money compensate their lawyers in the suit.

A member of city council requested that Petersburg Commonwealth's Attorney Cassandra Conover look into last Tuesday’s controversial vote.

CBS 6 obtained a copy of her findings sent to all City Council members, which advised the governing body to reconsider a revote.

One of the five council members who voted in favor of the motion Tuesday night would have to make another motion for a revote.

Conover believes there was a conflict of interest when Mayor Sam Parham and Council Member Howard Myers were allowed to cast their votes in favor of the motion.

Conover comes to two conclusions in the seven-page advisory opinion. First, she found insufficient evidence to show either Parham or Myers had proper knowledge of the state and local government Conflict of Interests Act.

So there is a question of whether they knowingly violated it, which would be sufficient for prosecution.

"I thought that what we did was absolutely incorrect,” said Treska Wilson-Smith, Petersburg City Council Ward 1.

Conover also found that undeclared conflict of interest disqualified both councilmen from voting on the motion and renders the vote invalid.

"We need to make this vote again and it does not need to include the two council members who voted that should not have,” said Wilson-Smith.

City Attorney Joseph Preston notified city council Monday morning.

"I think that the Commonwealth's Attorney in this instance is just dead wrong,” Preston said.

"They could have chosen to abstain from their vote,” he said, but they didn’t have to do so.

"Council was perfectly with in their rights, specifically Sam Parham and Councilman Howard Myers, to vote for the reimbursement of their legal fees or for the cost of legal representation,” Preston said.

He also said it was within their rights to disclose a conflict the next day.

"Both filed their appropriate disclosure forms the next day,” he said.

His advised the council that their vote was legal and that they do not have to re-vote this issue.

Conover responded to Preston, and said she stands by her advisory opinion.

He can respectfully disagree, she said, and there is no need for further discussion.