One day after a majority of the Leesburg Town Council declined to discuss the merits of a formal censure of Councilman Tom Dunn, they faced heated criticism on Tuesday from community members and groups.
Representatives of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, the LGBTQ community and the Loudoun County NAACP skewered some council members over their response to, or role in, Dunn’s recent choice to write statements rather than sign his name on town proclamations supporting their projects. Critics, including some council colleagues, have called on Dunn to resign over his actions.
Dunn was accused of violating the Town Council’s Code of Ethics by writing messages on his signature line on ceremonial proclamations marking Gun Violence Awareness Day, Pride Month, and Juneteenth.
The heated comments came after Councilman Ron Campbell on Monday night did not find enough support to consider a censure vote against Dunn.
Campbell sought to add a censure motion to Tuesday night’s meeting agenda, but his request was supported only by Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Neil Steinberg. The three have all publicly called for Dunn to resign over his actions, which Dunn has stated he has no intention of doing. On Tuesday, several of Dunn’s critics chastised Burk for not voting to support the agenda item.
Loudoun County NAACP President Pastor Michelle C. Thomas pointed to a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., that those who ignore evil are accomplices to it. She turned her attention in particular to Dunn, Mayor Kelly Burk and Councilman Joshua Thiel. She criticized Thiel both for his decision to sign Dunn’s statement to the Pride Month proclamation at his request, since Dunn was absent when the proclamation was signed, and also for not supporting review of the town’s ethics policy during Monday night’s work session. That discussion will occur at a future work session instead.
Councilman Ron Campbell first raised the idea of discussing the ethics policy and also put forward two unsuccessful motions to consider censure of Dunn either Tuesday or at a future meeting.
Thomas also criticized Burk for not supporting a vote to censure Dunn and promised to lead an effort to recall her from office.
“I guess it was random to decide not to give us a voice, to lynch our voices. What will not be random is my effort to recall you as mayor,” she said in addressing Burk.
Thomas said Dunn had normalized disappointment in Leesburg and had taken bigotry to a new level.
Town resident Mary Katherine Bennett presented her own proclamation to the council during the petitioner’s section of the meeting. She called for the creation of “Stand up to Bullies Day” on June 14, the same day the NAACP held a press conference calling for Dunn’s resignation.
Charlotte McConnell of the Equality Loudoun Steering Committee called for the resignations of both Dunn and Thiel. She said that official town documents are not the place for personal opinions.
But some in the audience said the Town Council should not ignore freedom of speech and defended Dunn’s actions.
Former town resident Sandy Kane said she was “appalled that the Town Council could be railroaded by the NAACP.”
“Tom Dunn, whether you agree with what he has to say, has a right to his opinion as the rest of you do. For years he has been voted into that position on the Town Council,” she said.
Harold Brown, in what was perhaps the most tense exchange, called the NAACP “race baiters” and said the Town Council should not bend to them.
“Any of you who knuckle under to the NAACP or any one of these Mickey Mouse organizations should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said. Several members of the audience claimed that Brown made an obscene gesture to them after finishing his remarks, to which Burk asked him to be respectful of his behavior or be asked to leave the Council Chambers.
While a censure may not happen, there was enough support on the town council for a motion by Councilwoman Suzanne Fox to talk about the council’s ethics policy at a future meeting.
Tuesday’s meeting was preceded by a protest on the town green led by Equality Loudoun.
“This isn’t a difference of opinion,” McConnell said. “This is about respect. This is about following your own ethics policy.”
On the town proclamation marking June as Pride Month, Dunn, who was absent, asked Thiel to write “everyone is equal. Identities don’t help,” which Thiel did.
“Who here thinks everyone is equal?” McConnell said. “No, we live in a very unequal society. We do aspire to equality, but we have a long road ahead of us.”
During Tuesday’s protest, Burk took to the stage to defend her votes.
“I want you to know that I’m with you, I stand with you, and I believe in what you believe in, it’s very important to me,” Burk said. “But there’s a role that you have play as mayor, and part of that role requires that you follow rules, and sometimes that trips up the end product.”
She said she could not support Campbell’s second and third motions because they were “too vague,” but that if he brings the topic up again in the future, “I will be with him and support him in that.”
“It was inappropriate, it was mean, and it was very selfish of him and it was embarrassing for us as a town council to do that,” Burk said of Dunn’s actions. And she said while the council cannot force Dunn to resign, those at the protest can make him “uncomfortable.”
Martinez invited those at the protest to do just that.
“I would like to see you show up at every council meeting and tell us your stories, to hear what you have had to go through, to understand the discrimination, the horrors of what happens to some of our LGBTQ, especially transgender women,” Martinez said.
Before adjourning the meeting, several council members weighed in on the events of the past several weeks, and looked forward to reviewing the ethics policy.
“The wording of the code of ethics is not definitive, and is open to interpretation, which is why we need, and I asked for, the discussion to make the code definitive,” Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said.
Although there was no further talk of voting for censure at Tuesday’s meeting, Fox made her feelings known.
“No one should have to live in constant fear that if they come to the wrong conclusion, or do something someone else does not approve of, that censure is around the corner. We can’t operate that way as a body,” she said.
Dunn clarified his intent with the statements he wrote on the three proclamations, and said his intention was not to offend.
“For those people who find harm in the statements I made I truly regret that; that was not my intention,” he said.
Dunn also said he hoped the council could work toward unity, and not division. He criticized the June 14 press conference organized by the NAACP as an attempt “to make a show” and divide the community
Campbell also stressed a need to unite the community.
“Moving forward I think there is some damage control [to be done], a loss of trust in this community,” he said.