Leesburg Council Approves Separation Agreement with Town Attorney

The uncertainty surrounding Leesburg Town Attorney Barbara Notar’s employment status came to an end Tuesday night, with a Town Council majority choosing to move on from their town attorney.

Notar, who had been employed as Leesburg’s town attorney for five years following almost seven years as its deputy town attorney, saw her job status become headline news in the past few weeks. It all began with a Letter to the Editor submitted to Loudoun Now, and penned by three members of the council, accusing their four colleagues of an orchestrated campaign to terminate Notar over their dissatisfaction with her handling of the Graydon Manor project and the town-county boundary line adjustment process. Council members Josh Thiel, Suzanne Fox, Ron Campbell and Tom Dunn, the ones who were on the receiving end of those allegations, denied the claims and denounced the letter for letting a personnel matter into the limelight. 

Traditionally, evaluations for the town manager and town attorney, the two positions who serve at the pleasure of the council, occur in closed session and typically end with new contracts and merit-based increases. This time around, though, Notar’s evaluation, which kicked off a week after the controversial release of the letter last month, occurred over the course of four closed sessions, many of which were lengthy and during some of which she was not present.

Tuesday night’s closed session on her evaluation was by far the shortest at 20 minutes, and immediately following its adjournment the council voted to approve the separation agreement in a 4-2-1 vote, with Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Marty Martinez dissenting. Thiel was absent for the meeting.

In a separate motion, the council unanimously approved the appointment of Martin Crim as interim town attorney. Crim had been hired by Town Manager Kaj Dentler to represent the town in its evaluation of Notar. He is a shareholder at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, and has been practicing law for more than 25 years, primarily for cities, towns, and other local governments. Crim also serves as Middleburg’s town attorney.

Prior to the vote to approve the separation agreement, several members of the downtown business community urged the council to rethink doing away with their longtime town attorney and spoke in support of Notar. Downtown property owner Michael O’Connor said he’d been a witness to the good work Notar had done, and believed in each case she had Leesburg’s best interests at heart. He and several other speakers questioned the reasoning for Notar’s removal and suggested that the controversial termination and fallout from the letter were staining the town’s reputation.

“It seems so odd that [some allege] Barbara Notar is not properly representing the town. I don’t know of a single attorney that would agree with that. Her reputation is uniformly excellent,” local attorney Don Culkin said.

Another fellow attorney, Peter Burnett, suggested that not agreeing with Notar’s legal advice was no reason to discharge her.

“Many times a client doesn’t like the advice they hear, or take the advice they hear. That’s true of council,” he said. “But it seems to me if you have the votes to discharge her … you also have the votes to disregard her opinion.”

Details of the separation agreement were not immediately available.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

6 thoughts on “Leesburg Council Approves Separation Agreement with Town Attorney

  • 2020-02-12 at 7:45 pm
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    The Council made the right decision. Her handling of Westpark, Graydon Manor and this BLA on the Microsoft property was not good. It seemed in these case she was acting more at the behest of the political agenda of Burk, Martinez and Steinberg vs. the town’s overall interests. In my brief time working with her as a council member, I found her to be arrogant, egotistical, condescending to members who questioned her decisions and rulings, and partisan (Democrat, which is why Burk pulled out her supporters to make a last-ditch effort to defend her). For years Notar would jump into the middle of Council discussions in order to effect policy discussions, which is not what a municipal attorney should be doing. She openly debated issues with members of Council, which was unprofessional. She openly accepted the role given to her by Burk and Martinez as the un-elected 8th member of coucnil attempted to effect the direction of the citizen’s elected representatives. She was selected in 2015 over a true civil servant candidate from Hampton by a Democrat majority to replace Jeannette Irby, now a Circuit Court Judge, who was truly impartial and fair. Notar was neither . I also suspect Notar being a former activist (Save the Trail) had a hand in rounding up media attention to save her job — ie. that letter Neil Steinberg authored which essentially put a personnel matter into the media. Three of the last 4 Town Attorneys have now been let go (Irby being the acception). I think it’s time the Council lets the town manager hire a true civil servant for the job like Leo Rogers, the county attorney, and not give the council say, nor allow the mayor to use the town attorney as a personal aide as Burk seemed to do with Notar.

    • 2020-02-21 at 7:59 am
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      Sounds like you have sour grapes from your time on the council. Truly she should have been involved in policy discussions, there has to be at least one adult in the room. It’s funny how you say you found her to be arrogant, egotistical, condescending. I never saw that from her but I did see that from you when you are council.

  • 2020-02-13 at 12:03 pm
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    Ken, for someone who no longer lives in Leesburg, and has been in Norfolk for a while, you seem to have very private information about the goings on of the Leesburg Council – how is that? You making comments about anyone’s behavior is also very interesting. After weeding through all your extraneous gossip in the post, this appears to be a play for promotion of Leo Rogers. I also see that you left out of your grievances, some of the council members taking campaign funds from the developer. That developer has yet to submit formal plans, yet demanded his pay for play friends have the attorney approval hypothetical plans. An attorney who was given a glowing review with no issues. The whole situation is a mess, but you popping your head up from out of town is even more mysterious. Maybe stick for Norfolk politics for a bit.

    • 2020-02-13 at 4:52 pm
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      I agree with Nicole Lee’s comments and would only add that when I read Republican Ken Reid’s comments I was amazed at his Superhuman Powers to know what was going on in the minds of council members and the town attorney Barbara Notar. But he should have mentioned that what at first seems to be a personnel matter, was actually an ethical matter. Council Member Suzanne Fox had received a $23,000.00 in campaign contributions from the developer who complained about the town attorney’s actions which affected and could block , an as yet to be submitted proposal, at Graydon Manor. To be fair, I applaud Council Member Fox’s latest suggestion , that any council member receiving money from a developer who had a proposal before the council, so state for the record. A good idea , but I think it does not go far enough. Said council member should also recuse him or herself if the contribution is above a certain significant dollar limit. Sorry that I don’t have Ken Reid’s Superhuman Powers to know if her acceptance of this money influenced her decision with respect to the town attorney’s continuing with the town or not. But , as I was taught a long time ago, working for the federal government with contracts, that “Perception is Reality” and to avoid the “hint of mint”. In other words be wary of any appearance of a conflict of interest, especially when money is involved. (“Follow the money”). Lastly two attorneys made very perceptive professional comments relating to Attorney Barbara Notar’s job performance. Local attorney Don Culkin said.“It seems so odd that [some allege] Barbara Notar is not properly representing the town. I don’t know of a single attorney that would agree with that. Her reputation is uniformly excellent,”
      Another fellow attorney, Peter Burnett, suggested that not agreeing with Notar’s legal advice was no reason to discharge her.
      “Many times a client doesn’t like the advice they hear, or take the advice they hear. That’s true of council,” he said. “But it seems to me if you have the votes to discharge her … you also have the votes to disregard her opinion. Sorry to see Barbara Notar leave the town in this manner and I thank her for her Service and wish her well. I also thank town councilman Neil Steinberg for shining light on this ethical issue.

      • 2020-02-13 at 11:21 pm
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        Tony — Steinberg and Campbell voted to separate her. They are not Republicans, so the vote to get rid of Notar was bi partisan. You have a point that Suzanne Fox should have disclosed the Graydon donation to her failed Senate campaign, but that is not required, nor is recusal, under Virginia law.
        However, she was just ONE OF FOUR VOTES to separate Notar. The other 3 councilmembers to my knowledge did not take donations from Graydon Manor. However, Kelly Burk sure takes donations from O’Connor, Burnett and Sisley, and the media do not report that! Those guys didn’t just happen to show up at the council meeting to support Barbara — Burk asked them show up in a last-ditch effort to save a political friend’s job. As to why I am commenting, it’s because I worked with Notar while on Council in 2017 and feel the public is not aware of the whole story. In fairness to her, I won’t say more.

  • 2020-02-13 at 8:47 pm
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    Mr. Fasolo, it seems strange to me that you are criticizing Ken Reid for weighing in on this when you yourself wrote a letter to the editor with your own assessment. Further, unlike you or Ms. Lee, Reid has actually had to work with Notar. He has actually participated in the closed-door meetings and privileged communications with her. Your opinion is based on what, exactly? The opinions of your close political allies, Burk, Martinez and Steinberg? A couple of letters from Burk’s political donors and supporters? If Ken Reid does not have enough info to weigh in here (he may or may not), then you CERTAINLY should refrain from opining.

    As for your contention that Fox should have recused herself from this vote, that MIGHT be the case if Notar had any authority whatsoever to hold up or block an application for sewer service. She does not. That is up to the town council. If she WAS inserting herself and blocking an application against the will of the council then she really should have been fired, and maybe even disciplined by the state bar. Moreover, I have not seen any evidence whatsoever that Gregory wanted Barbara gone…have you? Why hasn’t that evidence been referenced in any of the articles that have been written about this? All that we have is Steinberg’s speculative claim that Gregory wanted Barbara gone, and that he donated to Fox’s Senate campaign in order to get his way on the town council. So, answer me a few questions. Why would Gregory donate to a campaign to get Fox OFF the town council in order to get his way on the town council? Is there any evidence that Fox was supportive of Notar and then suddenly changed her mind after the donation? Didn’t Fox vote against Notar when she was first hired? Didn’t she vote against Notar’s annual raises…twice? This stuff is all in the record…did you look at any of this before you weighed in accusing Fox of impropriety? Finally, how did a donation to Fox’s Senate campaign sway the majority of the council to support Notar’s separation from the town?

    I think you should tell your buddy Neil (and Kelly, and Marty) that if they are going to make slanderous insinuations in public, they should at least make logical sense.

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