Members of the Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday night continued to mount objections to the appointment of former council member Tom Priscilla to the Loudoun County Planning Commission, with some clarifying their positions and others vilifying media coverage of the controversy.
Priscilla was appointed to fill the vacancy as the Blue Ridge District planning commission Jan. 19. Four days later, Councilwoman Kelli Grim sent a letter to Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge asking for a meeting to discuss 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.” 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.
Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson and council members Ryan Cool and Nedim Ogelman also wrote separate letters to Buffington expressing reservations about the appointment. Cool suggested that Priscilla serve in an interim capacity until Buffington meets with western Loudoun town leaders to collect a list of suitable nominees from each town and then name a replacement. Ogelman’s Jan. 28 letter stated that Priscilla’s track record as a town planning commissioner and 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. He 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.
On Tuesday night, council members did not shy away from their previous positions, but some turned their focus to the media coverage of the situation. Loudoun Now and the Purcellville Gazette published editorials critical of the council members’ response to Priscilla’s appointment. Cool called some of the characterizations of the council’s actions “news to fit a narrative” and said some of the stories about the situation were factually incorrect.
Ogelman disagreed with assertions that the Town Council should not expect to have role in the county’s Planning Commission appointments.
“We have an obligation to do that,” he said.
Grim also reaffirmed her position and recently spoke in front of the Board of Supervisors to underscore her concerns.
“We cannot afford to go backwards,” she said. Grim referred to the time when she first moved to town and Priscilla was serving on the council as the “ice age” when the town was also subject to many lawsuits.
Jimmerson said she is glad the media was around to hold the council accountable, and said she hopes the council will play a similar role now that Priscilla has been appointed to the commission. While she said she does not regret voicing her concerns given what she saw transpire with council decisions when Priscilla was serving, “I think he will do a good job because we’ll hold him accountable.”
As he did when the concerns about Priscilla were first voiced last month, former Town Council member Steve Varmecky spoke before the council as a petitioner last night and defended his former colleague. He also said he disagreed with the council’s rationale for criticism.
“When you single out an individual for criticism, you’re essentially criticizing everyone who has served before,” he said.
Reached Wednesday, Buffington reiterated his confidence in Priscilla’s qualifications for the appointment.
“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,” he stated.
Reporter Margaret Morton contributed to this article.