Recall petition filed against board chair

Published 6:17 pm Friday, April 15, 2022

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More than 800 Suffolk residents have signed a petition filed in the city’s Circuit Court to recall School Board Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck.

The petition was filed Tuesday by Margaret Rankin of the group Suffolk Citizens for Accountability. A show-cause order for the case was issued two days later and a show-cause hearing has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 22.

The petition alleges that Brooks-Buck “has knowingly, willingly and purposefully violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, and allowed the City of Suffolk School Board to do the same, on repeated occasions,” and also “repeatedly silenced any critic” of the board and the school division, “including threatening the removal and arrest of citizens exercising their Constitutional rights as School Board members.” It also alleges that Brooks-Buck has censored and restricted other board members from questioning her actions, and “has deflected her own responsibility for the School Board’s failures.”

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It said Brooks-Buck’s actions “constitute a neglect of duty, misuse of office, and incompetence in the performance of her duties as a school board member,” resulting in “a material adverse effect upon the conduct of her office, the Suffolk School Board and the Suffolk School division as a whole.”

Brooks-Buck has publicly defended herself against the recall effort.

Reached late Friday, she said that she had only received the show cause order earlier that morning and said she had no comment at this time.

“There have to be grounds for a recall,” Brooks-Buck said at the board’s Jan. 4 organizational meeting. “And since the announcement was attempted to be public at a most inappropriate time, both at (City) Council and at this meeting, apparently there have to be legal reasons for a recall. There are none.”

In a guest column for the Suffolk News-Herald in January, Brooks-Buck wrote, in part, that “the Nansemond and Whaleyville Boroughs are diverse communities that represent all segments of Suffolk. The citizens understand the issues. Almost 12,000 people from the two boroughs voted in a free and fair election. Those individuals voted their incumbents in for a third and a fourth term, respectively. They know who they want to represent them. The most visible leaders of the anonymous movement do not appear to live in the two boroughs that are under attack. “Incumbent leaders have simply been targeted. This is the time to take a position, whether or not it is ‘safe, popular, or polite.’ The Suffolk School Board has to make decisions for thousands of children, families and employees in the middle of a pandemic. Pitiful, partisan, power plays consume unnecessary time and energy.”

Circuit Court Judge Matthew Glassman has recused himself from hearing the case. Carl Eason Jr., chief judge of the Fifth Judicial District, has designated Lawson Wayne Farmer, another Fifth Circuit judge, to conduct all the hearings in the case.

The show-cause order states that Brooks-Buck has the right to demand a jury trial should the recall go to trial.

Brooks-Buck was first elected as the Nansemond Borough representative on the board in 2012, was reelected without opposition in 2016 and again won re-election in 2020 over challenger Andy Hilton with 58.7% of the 7,084 votes cast.

Any recall petitions must be signed by registered voters totaling at least 10% of the number of votes cast in the last election for the office that the person holds. For Brooks-Buck, the 10% threshold is 708 or 709, based on the total votes cast in Brooks-Buck’s 2020 race against Hilton.

The group has also initiated a recall against board Vice Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, who represents the Whaleyville Borough, but no petition has yet been filed in that effort in Suffolk Circuit Court. Petitioners need at least 485 signatures to be able to file a recall petition against Byrum in Circuit Court.

State law allows for a circuit court, once it receives a recall petition, to “remove any elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office, residing within the jurisdiction of the court” for a number of reasons, including neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence in the performance of duties,” which is the apparent reason the group is looking to recall Brooks-Buck and Byrum.