Navy issue resurfaces in City Council

Published 9:23 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

FRANKLIN—A failed motion during a Franklin City Council meeting Monday seems to have revived a debate that council members voted to end in February.

Councilman Greg McLemore said a motion made by Councilman Benny Burgess to discuss the “terms or scope of a contract” in a closed council session was an attempt to bring back debate on the issue of allowing Navy training flights at Franklin Municipal Airport.

“It’s very simple: The mayor (Jim Councill) wanted to bring negotiation back up,” McLemore said Tuesday. “He wanted us to rescind my (Feb. 14) motion to kill it and bring it back.”

McLemore also said Councill asked to meet with him on Sunday in reference to the issue.

“I informed the mayor that it was not my decision to make and I would have to talk with my constituents first because I vote with my constituents.”

Burgess’ motion failed to pass due to a 3-3 vote. Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson was not present. McLemore and Councilmen Barry Cheatham and Don Blythe voted against adding the discussion to the closed-session agenda.

When asked if the motion he made was to discuss a reopening of the Navy issue, Burgess declined to comment.

Councill did not return multiple phone calls Tuesday. Navy spokesman Ted Brown and council members Mary Hillard and Johnson did not immediately return calls Tuesday. Cheatham declined to comment.

Questions also arose Tuesday in reference to the legality of the motion.

A subsection of Virginia code 2.2-3711 allows for officials to meet in a closed session in “discussion of the award of a public contract involving the expenditure of public funds, including interviews of bidders or offerors, and discussion of the terms or scope of such contract, where discussion in an open session would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”

City officials acknowledged Tuesday that there was never an official contract in the works with the Navy, but a performance work statement, which was going to be the basis of a contract, was submitted.

City Attorney H. Taylor Williams said the performance work statement was a description of the services the Navy would need to discuss with the city, but it was never meant as a contract for the touch-and-go operations.

“Was there ever an official contract? No,” Williams said.

Blythe and Burgess both said there was no contract on the table to their knowledge.

Virginia Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Megan Rhyne said discussion of the issue in a closed session would imply that there was a contract to discuss.

“If you’re not talking about a contract then you can’t use the exemption,” Rhyne said.

Williams said the motion speaks for itself and he would not respond to something that wasn’t in the “four corners” of the motion.

Blythe said he originally voted to stop discussion on the issue because he was simply voting the way his constituents wanted. Burgess said he voted against further discussion of the issue in February because he said the city couldn’t take the gamble at the time.