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Spotsy commission is asking for security

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Spotsylvania County residents may want to think twice before speaking out of turn at public meetings.

A sheriff’s deputy could be there.

After a heated public hearing this week on a proposed development, Planning Commission member Travis Bullock said he’d like to have security at future meetings.

“It could’ve got out of hand,” he said. “I don’t feel like I want to be sitting on a board that I’ve got to worry about myself.”

Planning Director Wanda Parrish said she will take the request to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday voted to recommend approval of a proposed 218-home development on part of the Chancellorsville Battlefield off State Route 3. As residents filed out of the room after the vote, an opponent of the development proclaimed several times, “Bought and sold, every one of you!”

Planning Commission member Richard Thompson replied to the man, but his comment was inaudible.

In an interview Thursday, Thompson said he told the person that he was wrong.

“That’s a slanderous remark,” Thompson said. “We’re not bought and sold.”

He said he didn’t want to comment on Bullock’s request for security at meetings. Bullock also declined to comment further.

The Sheriff’s Office currently sends deputies to every Board of Supervisors meeting, Capt. Jeff Pearce said. Typically, the deputies don’t have to intervene.

Sheriff Roger Harris would have no problem assigning deputies to other meetings that are expected to draw crowds, Pearce said. Seventeen people spoke during the public hearing on the Chancellorsville development.

“The mere presence of law enforcement can certainly help keep order, and that’s part of our job,” Pearce said.

Spotsylvania resident Robert Howard also caused a stir at the Planning Commission meeting when he said that the developer had “bribed preservation groups” with donations. The Silver Cos., which is proposing the development, has agreed to donate more than 400 acres of historically significant land to the Civil War Trust in exchange for the project’s approval.

Planning Commission Chairman Robert Stuber responded to the remark by asking attendees to not falsely accuse someone of illegal behavior. Howard said he didn’t mean to suggest that anyone had broken the law.

Developers typically proffer cash, land or infrastructure improvements in exchange for rezonings, and localities have policies to guide those proffer amounts.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner John Gustafson said the County Attorney’s Office needs to refute claims of illegal activity. He cited the bribery remark.

“These comments have been going on for as long as I’ve been on this commission … and not once has the county spoken up for us,” Gustafson said.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Bobbi Jo Alexis said the bribery comment was directed at a private entity that she “couldn’t speak up for.”

“You’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t hear them say it to you, except for the gentleman on exit who said, ‘bought and sold,’” Alexis said.

Thompson piggybacked on Gustafson’s request. “I don’t like being threatened,” he said. “It’s real personal when somebody threatens me. Next time somebody threatens our office or my supervisor, something needs to be done about it. I will not tolerate it again.”

He was apparently referring to a speaker who said that residents would hold commissioners accountable on Election Day. Thompson told the speaker that his “election threat is empty” because the Planning Commission is appointed.

Alexis said the county could take action if someone makes a physical threat. But officials can’t stop anyone from threatening to vote a certain way, she said.

Stuber said that maybe the County Attorney’s Office could come up with guidelines for meetings.

“Maybe in the future we need to be able to expel people who say certain things, I don’t know,” Stuber said. “Maybe you could give us some guidelines on that.”

Howard, the resident who made some of the comments at issue, noted in an interview later that he never threatened anyone with physical harm. He was just stating his opinion, he said.

“I thought that these meetings were a place where you expressed your opinion,” Howard said. “It seems to me they’re trying to create an atmosphere down there of fear and intimidation, and if you don’t speak what they want to hear, they want to silence you.”

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402; jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

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