Pack to Tynes: Don’t tell town’s secrets

Published 6:39 pm Tuesday, December 11, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield Town Council member Randy Pack spent more than four minutes at the Dec. 4 meeting excoriating a fellow council member for discussing publicly what had occurred in a closed Town Council session. 

Pack read a prepared speech that did not specifically name the other council member, but it was obviously directed at Council member Denise Tynes, who was quoted in a Smithfield Times story describing what occurred in the closed session.

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Pack noted that there were no “physical consequences” or “punishment this council can dole out” to a member who reveals the secret discussions of a closed session. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Tynes has replied that she is tired of being bullied by certain members of the Town Council and that they are trying to get her to resign — something she has no intention of doing.  

Pack described his view on the subject.

“Recently, The Smithfield Times reported that a Smithfield Town Council member approached them with information on a subject that came up during a council closed session, a topic this town council member did not view as a closed session issue as it was characterized as a loan from the town to a private organization,” said Pack.

“This council member not only violated the rule pertaining to closed session items but pursued the press with information that they had obtained during this closed session,” said Pack.

Pack was referring to the Nov. 14 Smithfield Times story where a change to Smithfield Recreation Association’s lease was discussed in a closed session. 

However, Tynes did not “pursue” the newspaper. The Smithfield Times was told of the closed session item by a resident, not a council member, and in turn called and/or emailed three Town Council members — Beth Haywood, Valerie Butler and Denise Tynes.

Haywood and Butler did not respond. 

The Smithfield Times called Tynes and actually woke her up. She then proceeded to answer questions as they were asked, as well as provided her opinion on the issue.

It was Tynes’ opinion that the discussion did not qualify as a closed session item. 

Pack disagreed, but he may be incorrect, according to the Code of Virginia.

The law has many exemptions allowing closed sessions, mostly concerning specific state agencies. The portion that pertains to this session, 2.2-3711.5, states that a closed session is permissible if it pertains to the discussion or consideration of public funds where competition and bargaining is involved and public disclosure could adversely affect the government’s position. 

In this case, the issue concerned SRA’s desire to renege on its plan to sell Beale Park as part as part of its contribution to the construction of the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex. 

The sale of Beale Park, and the promised contribution of $300,000, had been discussed publicly for years, as well as the particulars of the lease that was ultimately signed between the town and SRA. The lease stipulated that Beale Park would be sold. 

The sale, the contribution and the lease were never considered competitive at any point during the years-long public discussion of those plans. 

What SRA wanted to do instead was keep Beale Park and pay the town $30,000 a year for 10 years — a change to the lease, as a no-interest loan, that was approved at the Dec. 4 Town Council meeting. 

Tynes did not believe the discussion was closed session material and said so when asked by The Smithfield Times. SRA was not present during the closed session, only Town Council members and staff, said Tynes. 

Regardless of whether the session was permissible, FOIA requires members of elected boards and council who believe a session is not allowed to call out such discussions publicly. That whistle blowing role is supposed to occur immediately following the session when the public body votes to certify that the session was legal.

Tynes said she did not do that at the conclusion of the session. 

In his speech, Pack expressed regret that there is no punishment for Tynes’ actions.

“There are no physical consequences for a council member to do so, there is no punishment this council can dole out or legal ramifications to these actions, however, it has shaken up the trust amongst our council members,” said Pack.

Pack spoke of how he thinks the council should be run.

“Like it or not, closed session is a necessary tool for government use. Certain items need to be negotiated behind closed doors; when the negotiating is done then the public needs full transparency,” he said. 

“It is important that we stand as a unified council. It is more than okay to disagree or vote against an idea you disagree with. This is the heart of democracy and what we have been elected to do,” he said.   

“It will take some time for this breech of trust to be healed, and I’m afraid some will continue to worry about expressing their true feelings on a given topic,” he said. 

“However, if we can simply agree to keep closed session items out of the public and especially out of the paper, we will all be better off for it,” said Pack.

Tynes said in an interview Friday that she was not elected to be “unified,” but rather to serve the residents of Smithfield. 

“I’m tired of being bullied. I will not continue to stamp what they want me to stamp. I’m there to represent the citizens,” she said. 

“The only way for residents to learn about the Council is to communicate with the newspaper,” said Tynes.  {/mprestriction}