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Culpeper resident rips recent town council actions

Tom Letts is not about to let well enough alone.

In an impassioned address during public comment time at Tuesday night's monthly Town Council meeting, Letts challenged several recent council actions and called out two councilmen he said lied to him.

The Culpeper resident said the recent firing of Town Manger Kimberly Alexander and the way the investigation into alleged wrongdoing by town police Capt. Chris Settle was handled point to an unresponsive council.

“This council has shown little or no concern for the wishes of town residents,” Letts said. “This council interfered with a personnel decision [in the Settle case] it had no right to be involved in and placed parameters on the investigation that blatantly insults the residents of this town.”

Letts said he had attempted to contact each council member concerning “threats to fire” Alexander.
“Frank Reaves and Bobby Ryan, the day before they voted to fire Ms. Alexander, stated adamantly that they were totally behind her efforts and would in no way vote to fire her,” Letts said. “These were barefaced lies.”
Reaves and Ryan were part of the 5-2 majority voting to fire Alexander last month.

In an e-mail Wednesday morning Coleman said, “Tom called me, said his piece (in a message) and said I didn't need to return his call. As you know I am very responsive to phone calls and e-mails. If he had asked me to call him, I would have called him.”
After Letts was done, Ryan asked Coleman for permission to respond to Letts.
“I never once lied to you,” Ryan said. “You heard what you wanted to hear.”
Before Ryan could continue Coleman stopped him saying “it's time to move on.”

Other concerns mentioned by Letts were “an open air drug market, violence, public drunkenness, serious auto accidents, shootings and gang activity.”
He said requests to council to pay serious attention to these issues have been largely ignored.
“We usually get a couple of answers,” he said. “'We're working on it' or 'Can we really do anything about it'? After the better part of 10 years I am through hearing these excuses. The council guts the maintenance code to protect their 'good ol' boy' buddies.”
Letts said the way the Settle investigation was handled is another example of the “good ol' boy” network.

Alexander said in an interview with Culpeper Times after her firing that she was ready to recommend to council that Settle be demoted to lieutenant for his actions. Acting Town Manager Chris Hively was said to have “completely reviewed” the case and last week Settle's paid administrative leave ended as he returned to work still at the rank of captain.

As for Alexander, who served just 17 months, Letts said that she was chosen from “50 to 51 candidates” and now the town would have to “waste more of our money finding someone you can coerce to do your bidding.”
Letts praised councilman David Lochridge and Vice Mayor Mike Olinger for “having the guts to do the right thing” in voting against terminating Alexander. The men told Culpeper Times last week that she should have been allowed to finish the investigation before council took any action.
In an e-mail following the council meeting Letts wrote, “Please know that our only goal is to see our neighborhood and community improve. We have worked for many years to effect change. The recent actions of this council has caused us to consider selling and moving. The problem is…that not only does the economy hold our [home] value down, [but also] the crime and lack of effort by the powers that be have equally affected our equity.”

Museum gets 'emergency' funding
Bob Kenefick, the treasurer and chairman of the finance committee of the Museum of Culpeper History, requested “emergency funding” of $30,000 from council.

“We're looking to the town for help, because we feel the town has the most to gain from the success of the museum,” he said.
Kenefick said that since the economic meltdown of 2008 state, county and town funding for the museum has gone from $92,500 to $16, 200 – a $76,000 decrease. The museum, he said, has undertaken more fundraisers and partnerships, but currently faces a cash flow problem to finish the fiscal year ending June 30 in the black.

“We are in the midst of a membership drive, but currently have funds on hand only through Feb. 22,” Kenefick said. He added that belt-tightening – including director Lee Langston-Harrison's willingness to take a pay cut -- and new fundraising initiatives will still leave the museum with a financial shortfall. I hope the council will consider any money given to us as an investment,” he said.
“What will keep this [shortfall] from happening again next year?”, said Councilman Ben Phillips.
“We have a major fundraising plan for this fall which we believe will put the museum on sound financial footing,” said Kenefick.
“Would it be fair to say that without this infusion [of money)]hat it would be impossible to maintain the museum?”, said Lochridge.
“Yes,” said Kenefick.

The council voted 6-3 to give the museum the $30,000 it requested.
“The museum is part of the fiber of our community,” said Councilman Billy Yowell. “It's part of our heritage. You really can't estimate its value to the town.”

Councilmen Dan Boring, Jim Risner and Phillips voted against giving the emergency funding. However, the council then decided to send to committee consideration of including the museum as a line item in the budget.
“My hope is that we can make the town a little more responsible for the museum, maybe roll it in with tourism,” said Boring after the meeting. “We would also have a little more oversight.”

In other action the council:
- Approved a section of the Virginia Maintenance Code dealing with unsafe structures and buildings unfit for human habitation. This will give the town more direct oversight in those areas. Councilmen Ryan and Yowell voted against the motion. Ryan expressed concerns about future ramifications of the town having this authority over private property owners.
- Voted to name the new Inner Loop “Colonel Jameson Boulevard.” Jameson was the soldier who alerted George Washington to Benedict Arnold's treachery during the Revolutionary War. He owned land in and around Culpeper including what is now Blue Ridge Avenue.
- Confirmed that the assistant town manager would fill in during any absence by the town manager and that the chief of police would be next in line.
- At the request of Yowell, voted to let the Ordinance Committee continue to study the possibility of moving town elections from May to November.

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