Council members respond to reported call for picketing businesses

Published 1:03 pm Saturday, June 8, 2013

FRANKLIN—Franklin City Councilman Greg McLemore said he had no comment when asked by The Tidewater News to confirm an email that stated he, “has called for picketing of council members Barry Cheatham and Benny Burgess’s job and business. He also called for a boycott of Mayor Raystine Ashburn’s business.”

The email came to the newspaper from Thomas Councill Jr., who told Managing Editor Lucy Wallace that he believes he’s performing a public service to the newspaper in offering news tips.

Included in the email, which was sent Friday morning, are items regarding the Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills. The group is upset that Franklin City Council and staff have not done enough to address what they perceive as an inequality in electric bills.

Linwood Johnson, spokesman, confirmed that Councill attends meetings on the issue.

“Our group is not doing any such business [as picketing],” Johnson said. “We respect their businesses. Their businesses have nothing to do with the issue. I wouldn’t want anyone to picket my business. We have no personal beef with anyone. Mayor Johnson-Asburn runs a respectable business and so do the others.”

“We’re working for solutions so Franklin can move forward,” he continued. “Some want to wreak havoc.”

The mayor said she had recently learned of a call to picket her business, William Johnson and Sons Funeral Home in Franklin, through The New Journal and Guide, a Norfolk-based weekly newspaper.

If McLemore indeed has called for picketing, “It’s his right,” Johnson said. “I’m mindful that I can’t infringe on his right, and I remain prayerful about the matter.”

Franklin Councilman Barry Cheatham said the call from The Tidewater News is the first he’s heard about it. He is a certified public accountant for Sherman, Spero & Safarino Ltd., Virginia Beach.

“That’s up to them, just so long as they get a picket license,” Cheatham said, adding that he doesn’t know why McLemore or anyone would want to picket his business.

“This is very out of line for a councilman, but I guess that’s his business,” he said.

“That’s their problem,” Cheatham said. “I think he ought to serve his constituents. He’s not attended one budget work session.”

Benny Burgess, fellow Franklin City Councilman, confirmed Cheatham’s remark that McLemore has not attended any of the budget work sessions.

“As long as they don’t interfere with my employees coming and going, they’ve a constitutional right,” said Burgess. He has a branch of Burgess & Co., PC, CPAs in Franklin, as well as Emporia and Richmond.

Regarding the Concerned Citizens group, Burgess said that council has been having many meetings about high electric bills.

“We’ve referred anyone specifically to meet with the city manager to look at their specific case. Our research has shown it’s not a systemic problem, but an individualized problem with each person.”

He added that the mayor has been quite respectful of the people’s citizen time at council meetings.

“I’ve not heard from Greg personally,” said Burgess, “but I have a concern of a fellow councilman taking this to a personal level. This is not conduct becoming a city councilman.”