Leesburg Council Deadlocks in Effort to Fill Vacant Seat

A seat on the Leesburg Town Council dais will remain vacant for at least another two weeks.

Tuesday night, the council failed to appoint any of the 16 candidates to fill the unexpired term of former council member Josh Thiel. The seat has been vacant since his resignation took effect May 31, and now the council will find itself right up against the Town Charter-mandated 90-day deadline to select a replacement before the Loudoun County Circuit Court would need to step in and do it for them.

Two weeks ago, the council adopted a resolution outlining the process it would follow to fill the seat. That process spelled out that each council member would select his or her top five choices among the 16 residents who had expressed interest in the appointment, and send those choices to Clerk of Council Eileen Boeing. The list would then be whittled down to the candidates who received at least four votes from current council members. Those finalists were to be discussed at the council’s Tuesday meeting.

Town Council members’ top choices were made public in the agenda packet last week. Only one candidate, Planning Commissioner Nicholas Clemente, received votes from at least four council members; he got support from five. Only Councilman Tom Dunn did not submit a list of finalists. Of the remaining candidates, none appeared on more than three lists.

While it would have appeared prior to the meeting that Clemente would be appointed, that was not the case.

A motion by Councilman Ron Campbell to appoint Clemente to the seat deadlocked, with Mayor Kelly Burk, Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Neil Steinberg voting against his appointment. All three had listed him as a top five choice in their votes submitted to Boeing. Subsequently, several other candidates were put forward for appointment, but all votes deadlocked along the same 3-3 split.

Both Burk and Martinez said Gladys Burke, who was on the finalists list of three council members ahead of the meeting, was their top choice. A motion to appoint Burke also failed, with Campbell abstaining.

“I may have put a candidate on my list, but they were not my first choice. My first choice was Gladys Burke and I was not going to vote for anybody until I had an opportunity to vote for her,” Martinez said. The motion to appoint Burke followed the vote on Clemente.

Campbell called his council colleagues to task for not following the process they had adopted two weeks prior.

“On the one hand, I think it’s an embarrassment for us, not for [the candidates]. We’re not following our own rules. We’re allowing ourselves to be drug out to partisan politics. We have five people on this dais [who had Clemente on their list]. Obviously five people saw him worthy,” he said.

While not mentioning Clemente by name, Steinberg said if certain facts or qualities about a candidate were revealed after each council member submitted his or her list, they are able to change their minds.

Both Burk and Councilwoman Suzanne Fox, who supported Clemente’s appointment, said they were unaware of his political leanings.

Dunn found support, with only Martinez dissenting, for postponing the vote for another two weeks after all votes had deadlocked. The council traditionally recesses for its second set of August meetings so if an appointment is not made at the council’s Aug. 11 meeting, or a special meeting is not called, it could be left to the Circuit Court to fill the seat. Whomever is chosen to fill the seat will serve until the end of Thiel’s term, Dec. 31.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com