The county seat finds itself in the center of controversy yet again, and this time it’s for proclamations presented at this week’s Leesburg Town Council meeting that some are calling offensive.
It’s caused one community group, the NAACP of Loudoun County, to call for the resignation of Councilman Tom Dunn. NAACP President Pastor Michelle C. Thomas posted on Facebook this morning that the group will formally make that request today.
Dunn’s decision to write, or have written on his behalf, comments on his signature line for three proclamations over the course of the past two weeks is what started the controversy. The proclamations were presented to the Moms Demand Action group at the council’s May 28 meeting in recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Day; and proclamations representing Juneteenth and LGBTQ Pride Month, both presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
The controversy surfaced Monday when Councilman Ron Campbell found out from a member of the Moms Demand Action group that Dunn had, instead of signing his name, wrote that “people are violent, guns are not” on his signature line for that proclamation. Campbell said he then asked Clerk of the Council Eileen Boeing to check the batch of signed proclamations for this week. It was then discovered that Dunn had also written messages on the Juneteenth and LGBTQ Pride Month proclamations. On the LGBTQ resolution he wrote, “Everyone is equal, identities don’t help,” and the Juneteenth proclamation contained the remark, “This is a celebration, lynching is not.” The NAACP is dedicating the county’s first lynching memorial next Wednesday, which is also Juneteenth.
Mayor Kelly Burk said she requested that new proclamations be printed ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting and that council members would sign them upon arriving at that meeting. Dunn said that he asked Councilman Josh Thiel to write those same messages on his signature lines for the LGBTQ proclamation if he was late in arriving to the meeting. Thiel confirmed that he did as Dunn requested. According to Burk, the rest of the council was then unaware that the proclamations containing those remarks were presented Tuesday night.
Reaction was swift, and overwhelmingly negative, on social media once representatives from both groups shared those proclamations Wednesday morning. Burk said she is embarrassed by Dunn’s actions and how they reflect on the town. She, along with others on the council, including Dunn, have pushed for a review of the process under which proclamations are brought forward at a future meeting.
It was at Burk’s suggestion following her return to the council in 2012 that all council members began to sign the proclamations instead of the past practice of just the mayor signing them. Proclamations can also be brought forward with only the support of one council member, instead of a majority, unlike all other matters that come before the council for discussion that require a majority vote.
In defending his actions this week, Dunn said the subject of the three proclamations reflects the council becoming more of an activist body than it should be.
“We’re turning to council proclamations for an opportunity to make extreme activist views,” he said.
He said this week’s episode is reflective of the politics at the national level where dividing people, rather than uniting them, makes them easier to control.
“They want you to be victimized by the injustice from the past so you don’t see what the same politicians are not doing for you today to achieve greatness tomorrow,” he said.
Dunn said his choice to write a statement on his signature line rather than sign his name was not meant to offend, but to wake people up. He said, of late, the proclamations being brought forward have represented more extreme, controversial views than in his decade-plus on the council.
Burk noted that all council members have a choice to not sign their names to a proclamation if they do not feel comfortable doing so. Both Thiel and Councilwoman Suzanne Fox did not sign the proclamation on the LGBTQ Pride Month.
At the request of the mayor, Dunn signed new proclamations for Pride Month and National Gun Violence Week on Thursday. He said the Juneteeth proclamation wasn’t available when he went to Town Hall, but he had planned to sign that one as well.
Fox also stirred a bit of controversy by offering an alternate proclamation for “Love Your Neighbor Month” in lieu of the LGBTQ Pride Month one. Fox said she offered the alternate proclamation “to include all citizens, and not just a single group subdivided based on arbitrary criteria.”
“I wanted a proclamation that unites us, not divides us,” she said.
That proclamation was not voted on by the council, in what Fox called an error on the part of Burk who ruled the motion for the alternate proclamation was out of order.
Now, as the council grapples with the fallout from the controversial proclamations, it looks toward revising its proclamation process. Dunn said he favored having only the mayor sign the proclamations, or having the proclamations presented a half hour before the council’s business meeting begins.
Burk said she feels it is important to recognize the many groups who contribute to the community and wants proclamations to continue.
“When you have groups of people and individuals that have contributed to the community and you want to acknowledge them there shouldn’t be a problem with that,” she said.