IW removal petition stalls
Published 10:33 pm Friday, July 26, 2013
By Stephen H. Cowles
Special to the News-Herald
The Suffolk Commonwealth Attorney has concluded, for now, there’s not enough to go on to have Isle of Wight Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey removed from office as the Newport District representative.
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A request to stop the case was filed Friday along with a 12-page investigative report in the county’s circuit court.
“At this time, after a thorough review of the facts of this case and the applicable law, this case simply does not meet the removal requirements under Virginia Code Section 24.2-233,” wrote Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walton.
Suffolk is involved because Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Farmer had to recuse himself from the matter.
Bailey and Herb DeGroft, the School Board member representing Hardy District, are each the subject of removal petitions since refusing to resign after repeated demands from county officials and residents.
The controversy began in mid-May, when they were revealed to have circulated emails containing crude humor. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were the subjects of several of the pages. Fellow board members and county staff were recipients.
The report lists not only those four emails, but also a remark Bailey made that month in a budget work session.
“I guess if we could be like Washington, can we print some money in Isle of Wight County? Save your confederate money, the South will rise again,” Bailey said.
Dottie Harris told the supervisors present at a May 16 meeting that all this was hurtful and offensive to her and other black residents of the county. She is president of the Isle of Wight NAACP and made the first demand for both men to resign.
Bailey and DeGroft have repeatedly apologized in public and in print, but each has refused to leave office.
“That is not to say that Bailey’s actions are being condoned. It is quite understandable why the petitioners filed this action and felt that Bailey should be removed from office,” the report continues. “County officials and other citizens variously referred to Bailey’s conduct as being ‘unprofessional,’ ‘insensitive,’ ‘offensive,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘political,’ ‘egregious,’ ‘disenfranchising,’ and ‘hurtful.’ Bailey himself called his actions ‘hurtful.’”
Nevertheless, the report states conditions required to get an elected official removed from office were not met.
“If we have sufficient evidence to proceed we can do so,” Ferguson told The Tidewater News on Friday. “If not, we stop or file non-suit, which is exactly what we have done.”
Earlier in July, the matter against DeGroft was filed as a non-suit because of a lack of valid signatures on the petition. The hearing for Bailey is still set for 10 a.m. on Aug. 12 in Isle of Wight Circuit Court. The judge could approve the motion then.
Ferguson said that if evidence appeared to justify pursuing the matter, his office could do so. There’s a six-month time limit, though, and anything thereafter would require starting over, he added.
“We had some duty to explain why we took the actions we did. We felt it was more important we did so. We did the research, interviewed the witnesses, etc. We laid out all the facts,” Ferguson said. “We reached our conclusions. The report speaks for itself. It says what it says.”
The report closed as follows:
“The position of supervisor belongs to the people of Isle of Wight County. At this point Mr. Bailey must decide whether he can continue to effectively represent the citizens of Isle of Wight County or whether the citizens would be better served by his stepping down. Should Mr. Bailey decide voluntarily to step down it would be a prudent and statesmanlike decision and show that he is acting in the best interests of the people of Isle of Wight County.”
Neither Bailey nor his defense attorney, H. Woodward Crook, would be reached for comment.
“If he were a true gentleman as he claims to be? If he really cared about the citizens of Isle of Wight and all the negative publicity he’s caused, he would step down,” Brenda Lee said. She is co-captain of the recall petition committee.