The Haymarket Town Council spent nearly $900 last month to hold a special meeting during which outgoing town Councilman Joe Pasanello was stripped of his title as vice mayor two days before the end of his term over accusations he violated the council’s code of ethics in an email to this reporter.
Haymarket Mayor David Leake denied this week that the council took the action because Pasanello’s email criticized him in his role as mayor.
Rather, Leake said, the council voted unanimously June 28 to censure Pasanello for violating two sections of the town’s code of ethics and professional conduct for elected officials.
The resolution explaining the council’s action cited an email Pasanello sent June 14 that described the mayor as showing a “lack of transparency” and “direction by unilateral fiat.”
The email also predicted “a rubber-stamp approval” of the controversial Crossroads Village development by the “mayor and his acolytes.”
The town council considered the resolution during a special meeting June 28. Pasanello was out of town on vacation and did not attend. Pasanello’s term ended two days later, on June 30. He did not seek re-election last May.
Convening the meeting cost the town $892.50, according to Town Treasurer Roberto Gonzalez. Council members are paid for every meeting they attend. The town attorney is paid a fee for his time as well.
Pasanello censured over email
The resolution said Pasanello violated sections 12 and 13 of the town of Haymarket’s code of ethics and standards of conduct for town council and appointed officials.
Section 12 states: “Recognize that interaction with the media is a vital link in maintaining good communication with the public. Town Council comments to the media should be in a courteous, statesmanlike manner and should maintain the propriety of the council when speaking to public issues, or to opinions of colleagues and individuals.”
Section 13 states: “Make sure that a clear distinction is made between personal opinion or belief and a decision made by the Mayor, Town Council, PC and ARB.” The acronyms refer to the Town of Haymarket Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board.
In an email to the Prince William Times on June 29 following his censure, Pasanello said, in part, “Council’s action was unfortunate given that I was unable to attend the special meeting called by the mayor to be held two days before the end of [my] term. I would have certainly provided perspective and input for the council’s consideration and deliberation.”
Censure criticized at council meeting
Haymarket residents Maureen and Jim Carroll, both of whom served on the town’s planning commission until July 1, blasted the censure during citizens’ time at council’s July 2 regular meeting.
Maureen Carroll said Pasanello’s censure and removal just two days before his term ended “sadly reveals the very political nature” of the action.
She further called Leake’s Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to Pasanello’s emails “shocking and extremely distasteful.”
Pasanello said Leake gained access to his email through FOIA requests "on four or five occasions starting in April.”
“The people of Haymarket owe Joe a debt of gratitude for his service,” Jim Carroll said of Pasanello, adding that the council’s action “was spiteful and mean-spirited.”
“It says more about you than it does about Joe,” he said.
In an email, Leake said the comments were those of friends and neighbors of Pasanello.
“I understand completely why they would want to come out in public support of him,” Leake wrote. “…Unfortunately, the Carrolls are not privy to all the information obtained and the council’s closed session discussion.”
Leake noted the council met June 28 for more than an hour “to review all the information, have a discussion and render their unanimous decision.”
“This special meeting was also scheduled with over a week’s notice, which is well beyond the required three days,” Leake added.
Regarding the mayor’s FOIA of Pasanello’s emails, Alan Gernhardt, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, said in an email there's nothing "inherently wrong" with an elected official gaining access to a fellow elected official's email through a FOIA request.
However, Gernhardt said he'd never heard of an elected official being censured over an email to the press.
The Virginia FOIA Advisory Council is a state agency charged with helping elected officials and the public resolve issues relating the state's freedom of information laws.
"I cannot recall offhand having heard of a vice mayor being removed from office due to an email sent to a member of the press, but FOIA does not look to the purpose of a request or address what someone may do with public records after they are received,” Gernhardt wrote.
Reach James Ivancic at email@example.com