Editor: The Leesburg Town Council has found itself embroiled in what can only charitably be called an unpleasant situation. Because of the actions of Councilman Tom Dunn, and to a lesser degree Mr. Josh Thiel, Mayor Kelly Burk now finds herself accused of being a racist and threatened with a recall effort.
This is an interesting turn of events given that Mayor Burk was the first member of the council to publicly and strongly reprimand Mr. Dunn for his actions. To quote from the minutes of the June 11 council meeting, she said, “Council takes its proclamations very seriously … and that (Mr. Dunn’s actions were) brought to Council’s attention. She said that (his) sentiment was not shared by everyone on the dais. Mayor Burk said that if (a Council Member) wants to bring forward a proclamation, (he or she) may do so. She said that if a Council Member has an issue with the proclamation or if they don’t agree with it, that a Council Member has an opportunity to take their name off of it or they simply don’t have to sign it. Mayor Burk added that for a Council Member to write a derogatory or inappropriate remark on a proclamation takes away from Council’s dignity, the dignity of the body and the proclamation that they are giving to the community. She added that it is hurtful, distasteful and a terrible thing to do and disrespects the dais and the community as a whole. Mayor Burk stated that Council had re-signed the proclamations and offered Council’s deepest apologies to those who were touched by this action and hopes that it never happens again. She said what Mr. Dunn did was wrong and (his behavior was) unacceptable and so Council is correcting it.”
It goes without saying that this entire situation would have been avoided if Mr. Dunn (facilitated in one instance by Mr. Thiel) had simply refrained from defacing an official document. Mr. Dunn is afforded the same opportunities as every other council member to offer his opinion regarding any proclamation: he may make comments during a council work session when a proclamation is considered; he may vote against the proclamation at the appropriate time; he may choose not to sign the official proclamation document; he can offer all the personal opinions he chooses during his five minutes of comment time which comes at the end of every council meeting.
What he cannot do is write personal comments on an official public document. Imagine, if you will, that as a parent you are attending your child’s graduation. Your daughter receives her diploma, and on it a dean has written, “Your child has graduated, but she wasn’t really all that great.” How would you feel? How would your graduate feel?
He can try to reshape the conversation to his heart’s content, but it is a disservice to the concept for Mr. Dunn (and others) to attempt to frame this as a free speech issue. It is not. It is one of decorum and respect. It can be said with certainty that if an individual were to go to the National Archives and deface the copy of the U.S. Constitution resting there, that individual would suffer serious consequences. Not in any way was Mr. Dunn denied his right to express his thoughts. That he could not appreciate the hurt his actions would bring to the very individuals being honored, and that he could not or would not anticipate the political ramifications of his conduct is indeed a shortcoming on his part. What Councilman Dunn ultimately decides to do in an effort to in any way help repair the damage he has done, that is entirely up to him. But Mayor Burk took a strong stand against Mr. Dunn’s bad behavior, and it is not she who should be standing accused alongside him.
Councilman Neil Steinberg, Leesburg