Purcellville Council Members Criticize Loudoun Planning Commission Appointment

Four members of the Purcellville Town Council are objecting to Supervisor Tony Buffington’s choice to serve as the Blue Ridge District representative on the county Planning Commission.

Former Town Councilman Tom Priscilla was appointed to fill the vacant seat Jan. 19. Priscilla served on the council for a decade until he stepped down in 2014 and on the town’s Planning Commission from 2002 to 2014. He has lived in Purcellville since 1990.

Councilwoman Kelli Grim began the campaign against Priscilla in a Jan. 23 letter to Buffington, in which she asked for a meeting with the supervisor concerning the appointment. Grim criticized Priscilla’s voting record, claiming the current council “is buried deep beneath the heavy burdens of digging out of his irresponsible land use decisions.”

Grim sent her letter on Town of Purcellville letterhead and signed it in her capacity as a councilwoman. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) called Mayor Kwasi Fraser on Jan. 23 to ask if that were the view of the entire town council.

Fraser admonished Grim for her action. “It is absolutely inappropriate for your letter to Supervisor Buffington to be sent on town letterhead. Whether or not you meant it, such action gives the impression that it was written on behalf of the town, and it was not,” he wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to Grim. He requested she make it clear that the views expressed were her own and not those of the Town Council. Grim complied with the request.

Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson, whose husband Richard was Buffington’s opponent in the 2015 campaign, came to Grim’s defense. Jimmerson stated she did not interpret Grim’s email and attached letter “to be from anyone but her since her signature and name was the only one attached to it.” Jimmerson said Grim was entitled to use the official letterhead for correspondence as a council member.

The vice mayor also wrote to Buffington, calling the appointment “very disheartening,” and accused Priscilla of making “extreme” land use decisions that defied the sentiments of Purcellville residents.

Councilmen Ryan Cool and Nedim Ogelman joined in the criticism of Priscilla and of the selection  process while stressing they were writing independently of council.

On Jan. 26, Cool wrote Buffington and members of the board of supervisors questioning whether Priscilla was qualified to represent western Loudoun residents as the county worked through the Envision Loudoun comprehensive plan update. He “not only does not share that vision, but his track record of misguided and poor planning precedes him and serves as a clear example of that,” Cool wrote.

Cool suggested that Priscilla serve in an interim capacity until Buffington meets with western Loudoun town leaders to collect a list of potential nominees from each town and then name a replacement.

Ogelman’s Jan. 28 letter stated that Priscilla’s track record as a Purcellville Planning Commissioner and Town Councilman was the antithesis of what most in Purcellville and western Loudoun expect from their representative, especially when the county is developing a new comprehensive plan.

Ogelman supported Cool’s call for a new selection process.

“Citizens of the Blue Ridge district entrusted you to make appointments that reflect—not undermine—their expressed interests, but I believe your decision to appoint Mr. Priscilla violates that trust,” Ogelman wrote in his letter to Buffington.

Cool and Ogelman requested the issue be taken up by the full Board of Supervisors during its Feb. 7 meeting.

Reached for comment Friday, Buffington said that he had received many expressions of support for Priscilla, in whom he had great confidence.

Buffington released a statement late Friday in response to Cool’s letter.

“While I respect Town Councilman Cool’s request, Mr. Priscilla is extremely qualified for the position. Having taken the time to get to know Tom, I am completely confident he shares my desire to ensure the rural, historic and scenic character of western Loudoun for generations to come; therefore, I have no intentions of replacing him. As a result of Councilman Cool’s concern, I contacted Mayor Fraser directly to personally assure him of my commitment to the Town of Purcellville and to let him that I would never support a recommendation from the Planning Commission that was not in the best interest of western Loudoun. The overwhelming majority of responses to Tom’s appointment have been extremely positive from folks on both sides of the aisle and I look forward to his service to the Blue Ridge District and Loudoun County.”

Priscilla declined to comment on the matter.

Former Town Councilman Steve Varmecky, who served for two and a half years beginning in 2002, then again from 2006 to 2010, said he did not remember the council ever being asked for its opinion on a commissioner’s selection by the Blue Ridge District planning commissioner.

He was enthusiastic about Priscilla’s appointment. “No one in my experience knew more about land use issues than Tom,” he said, adding “I’m glad to see him there.”

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