Dennis McClain, one of five members of Appalachia Citizens Advocates, said on Thursday that the group is circulating three petitions requesting the resignations or removal of Mayor Teddie Collins, Town Manager Fred Luntsford and Town Attorney Mike Abbott.
McClain said the group started the petitions — one for each official — in response to events in a closed session at town council’s July 18 meeting. McClain said that other residents learned of the situation where council members allegedly “chastised” Councilman Travis Anderson over a disagreement on how council handled the town’s 2019-20 budget process.
McClain said that residents found that council tried to place a gag order on Anderson against talking to the media about his concerns over the budget situation.
Anderson on Thursday corroborated McClain’s comments, saying that Collins started talking about a gag order during the July 18 closed session. He said that Abbott and Luntsford told Collins that state law did not allow such a gag order.
Anderson said that he was angry over what he saw as a discussion not allowed by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act during the session and over what he said was council violation of town ordinances regarding communication with the town fire department during the annual budget process.
Anderson said he was aware of the petitions but had not seen the text that day.
“I’m really not concerned about it,” Collins said, declining further comment on the situation.
The three petitions specify other complaints against the three officials besides a common complaint of “illegally discussing information not protected under the Virginia law during town council meeting and not disclosing to the citizens the topic of the closed session.”
The petitions accused all three officials of lying under oath about information discussed in closed session, unprofessional behavior and ineffectiveness in their positions. Collins and Luntsford were also criticized in their petitions because the town is three years behind in audits.
Luntsford was also criticized in the relevant petition for allegedly not being available to citizens, not attending to issues in a timely manner, barring employees from talking with “certain citizens due to his distaste for those citizens,” and for the town being unable to receive federal grants because of the audit delays.
McClain said he and ACA members Amber Riley, Shawn Riley, Kimberly Green and Becky Flanary will present the petitions at council’s Sept. 19 meeting.
“We would hope that they resign or that council would take action,” McClain said. “If not, we will take it up with the Electoral Board and courts.”
McClain said ACA members stayed in front of town hall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday and gathered more than 100 signatures. A recall effort requires signatures of 10 percent of the electorate under state law, McClain said, and Thursday’s batch of signatures may reach that level.