Deadlocked Leesburg Council Asks Court to Fill Vacant Seat

A majority of the Leesburg Town Council has agreed on one thing when it comes to filling its almost three-month-long council member vacancy—they cannot agree on who to select.

In a meeting that adjourned early Wednesday morning, council members voted 4-2 to ask the Loudoun County Circuit Court to fill the vacancy created by Josh Thiel’s resignation in May. It ends months of deliberations over not only what process should be used to fill the vacancy, but ultimately on who should finish Thiel’s term, which expires at year’s end. 

Sixteen town residents had put their names up for consideration in mid-June, but it took almost a month for the council to agree on what process it should use to consider the candidates. Ultimately, the council selected a process that it did not end up following. Under that process, each council member would send his or her top five choices to Clerk of the Council Eileen Boeing, and then consider only the candidates who received at least four votes of support. Only one candidate, Planning Commissioner Nick Clemente, qualified for that consideration, receiving votes of support from all council members who participated in the process. Councilman Tom Dunn did not submit votes, but voted to support Clemente when his name came up for a vote. 

Votes on all candidates during the council’s July 28 meeting and on Tuesday night would fail, however, along the same 3-3 split—council members Ron Campbell, Suzanne Fox and Dunn on one end of the vote, and Mayor Kelly Burk, Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Neil Steinberg on the other. 

Clemente spoke during Tuesday’s petitioners section of the meeting, and had some choice words for the council. He said he was puzzled after Burk, Martinez and Steinberg did not vote in favor of his appointment at the July 28 meeting after all three had included him in their top five choices. Ultimately, he said he learned from reliable sources that his place of employment may have been the reason why.

“Since that sleepless night, I have learned about the influence the AFL-CIO, Laborers International Union, and Sheet Metal Workers Union have on Councilman Martinez and Mayor Burk. These unions have been funders of their various political campaigns. I have learned these special interests do not want me on council. Let me be clear: Reliable sources have told me these lawmakers reversed course because of my employment at the Associated Builders and Contractors, a pro-merit shop, inclusive organization hated by union lobbyists,” Clemente said.

He said the outcome of that meeting showed him, “Leesburg voters need an independent voice on council free of special interests.”

Whether a person who fits that description joins the council for at least a few months now will be the decision made by the Circuit Court. Only Burk and Martinez voted against asking the court to fill the vacancy. The Town Charter-mandated 90-day clock for the council to fill the seat will expire Aug. 29, and the court will be able to make the appointment any day after that. Interim Town Attorney Martin Crim said it was not known what process the court will follow in making the appointment, or which candidates would be considered. 

Campbell, who made the motion to send the appointment to the court, called the situation an “embarrassment.”

“We need to just admit we cannot come to a resolution because we will not discuss a resolution,” he said. “It’s a shame for the town to witness this, but this is the reality.”

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