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Harsh words, upheld vote

South Boston News
Supervisors meet Wednesday night to settle a dispute over the 2020 board chairmanship.
SoVaNow.com / January 23, 2020
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors broke new ground at a special called meeting Wednesday night to sort out a controversy over the board’s rightful chairman.

The opening act of the meeting — the offering of an invocation prayer — drew an objection.

The basis for the objection, said Supervisor Stanley Brandon, was that the person calling for the prayer in the role of board chairman, ED-3 supervisor Hubert Pannell, is not in fact the board chairman. “It’s a continuing breach of the laws, rules and procedures as stated in Roberts Rules of Order,” said Brandon.

Pannell shot back: “I heard the objection and we are going to proceed with the invocation,” which ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short then gave.

Supervisors thus proceeded to bat around a single item of business — the identity of the board’s rightful chairman — during an acrimonious, hour-long session that ended with a second vote ratifying the initial tally taken during the Jan. 6 organizational meeting. By a 5-2-1 vote — nearly the same as the first ballot— Pannell was elected board chairman, again.

The other claimant to the position, ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne, supported by Brandon, stuck to his argument that the board has already conducted its annual organizational vote for chairman, and he won.

“Once I received a majority of the vote under Roberts Rules of Order, I became chairman,” said Claiborne.

It was a reference to the two-step voting that took place at the Jan. 6 meeting. After the names of both contenders, Claiborne and Pannell, were placed into nomination for chairman, members took part in back-to-back votes.

In the first, Claiborne received three “yes” votes, with the other five board members declining to raise their hands to signal either support or opposition to his candidacy.

County Administrator Scott Simpson, presiding for the initial part of the meeting in the absence of a chairman, then called a second vote on Pannell’s bid — this time with five members voting “yes” in a show of hands.

Claiborne and Brandon mounted a spirited argument Wednesday night that the first vote — 3-0 in favor of Claiborne — is the outcome that supervisors must abide by under the board’s by-laws, since a 3-0 tally represents a majority of votes cast.

Doing nothing one way or another counts as a voting abstention, the two supervisors argued, and therefore board rules and procedure dictate that the motion passed 3-0.

“[With] one vote in a room of 100 people, the vote is legitimate” if all others sit out, Brandon said.

For almost a half hour, Claiborne held the floor with methodical questioning of Simpson, in an apparent effort to get the county administrator to concede that the 3-0 vote should have settled the chairmanship question without any need to hold a second vote. At times Simpson expressed exasperation with the line of questioning: “I’m not on trial here.”

Claiborne read aloud the passage in Roberts Rules of Order that states that motions are approved with a majority of votes cast — which is what happened in this instance, Claiborne insisted.

Simpson, while agreeing that non-votes count as abstentions, said he continued with the balloting for a chair because Claiborne did not receive majority support of five board members.

That prompted a question by Claiborne asking if Simpson was versed in the rules of voting procedure.

“You seem to be avoiding the fact, you say you know the rules, but you’re avoiding coming to the conclusion” that based on the rules, the first vote for chairman received a majority,” said Claiborne. “You mistakenly thought five votes were needed.”

Simpson replied: “I was looking for five votes for chairman as a majority of an eight-member board.”

The back-and-forth between Simpson and Claiborne was pointed at times — although Claiborne also eased up at the end, allowing that “we’re all human,” citing his belief that Simpson made a mistake in calling for a second vote. “But we still have to follow proper law and procedure.”

In contrast to the relatively restrained back-and-forth with Simpson, Claiborne had harsh words for County Attorney Jeremy Carroll, who serves as board parliamentarian. Claiborne and Pannell also sniped at each other, with Claiborne pointedly referring to “Supervisor Pannell” and Pannell responding, “I’m chairman.”

“No you’re not,” Claiborne replied.

“Yes I am, sir,” fired back Pannell, who seconds earlier had admonished Claiborne to “act like a gentleman.”

“I would ask you to do that yourself,” came Claiborne’s reply.

Addressing Carroll, the county attorney — with whom Claiborne has wrangled before, notably during the 2015 board impasse in which Claiborne and allied members forced Carroll’s resignation but failed to oust then-County Administrator Jim Halasz — Claiborne voiced withering criticism.

Claiborne accused Carroll of being biased against him and said he had no business taking part in the meeting.

He said Carroll violated legal ethics that require attorneys to “avoid impropriety and even the appearance of bias.”

Pannell, who was part of the four-member bloc on the board four years ago that attempted to fire Halasz and Carroll, bristled at what he described as a rehash of long-ago business. “You are totally out of order to go back and bring up the past,” he told Claiborne.

“You two [Claiborne and Carroll] just want to get in a feud and the board is not going to allow you to do that tonight,” Pannell added.

Pannell insisted that Carroll was acting appropriately by talking part in the meeting as county attorney. That drew another sharp retort from Claiborne: “He’s not my attorney.”

Brandon, who raised the initial objection to Pannell’s election the morning after the Jan. 6 vote, attempted to refocus the discussion by citing the need for “due process” in board actions.

Brandon was first to bring up the point that since he didn’t raise his objection at the time of the Monday night vote, the rules ordinarily would dictate that his objection fails on the basis of being untimely.

“You snooze, you lose,” said Brandon, describing the relevant passage in Roberts Rules of Order, which takes up 208 pages in the revised abbreviated version, and runs more than 700 pages in full.

However, Brandon noted there is a significant exception to the timeliness rule: objections can be brought up at any time if they based on procedural errors, especially those that continue to affect board decisions.

That exception, he continued, applies in the dispute over the board’s rightful chairman.

“A vote has been cast, it is binding and it is legitimate and it should stand,” Brandon said. “A determination must be made and I ask the determination be according to our by-laws.

“Not [according to] what someone thinks, not what someone thought, but what we are bound to do,” Brandon said.

Board members who voted for Pannell on Jan. 6 — and again last night — conceded that the vote to elect him as chairman was less than ideal. But ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco suggested that Brandon and Claiborne were pulling the rulebook out of context to justify the result they wanted: “You can’t just take a sentence out of it” — a procedural rulebook numbering hundreds of pages — “to work to your agenda.”

Explaining his reason for not voting against Claiborne when the first vote was held, Francisco explained, “I didn’t want to take a personal dig against him.”

For his part, ED-5 supervisor Dean Throckmorton admitted that he didn’t understand the implications of not taking part in the vote on Claiborne’s nomination for chair. “I was ignorant of the facts of voting procedure and that was my fault,” he said.

But Throckmorton, who was taking part in his first meeting on Jan. 6 as a newly elected supervisor, asked Brandon if he grasped the significance of no-votes at that same meeting.

“I was not certain,” Brandon replied.

As members prepared to vote on a motion by Francisco to uphold the results of the Jan. 6 organizational meeting — in which Pannell was elected chairman and Garland Ricketts was elected vice-chair — Brandon and Claiborne launched one last broadside against the legitimacy of the process.

Claiborne said he would refuse to take further part in the meeting, declaring that in his mind, it was adjourned. However, he ended up voting a second time for himself as chairman, with objections noted for the record.

Brandon labeled the pending vote a “cover-up,” drawing scattered groans from the audience.

By a 5-2-1 tally, Pannell was elected as chairman. Supporting the motion were Pannell, Francisco, Ricketts, Throckmorton and Short. Claiborne and Brandon voted no. ED-4 supervisor Ronnie Duffey, who provided the third vote in Claiborne’s favor on Jan. 6, this time abstained.

“The motion carries, this meeting is adjourned,” said Pannell quickly, with a loud bang of the gavel.



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49

Comments

Disappointed in Duffy. Someone needs to run against Claiborne. We need to get a concerted effort in the county to get real conservative people to run for BOS, people that will cut spending and taxes.

Comments

What is clear here is that Pannell has changed, while he once stood strong against oppression, and wrong-doing in County Administration he is now the token minority the Good Ole Boys need to advance their agenda. Chairman Claiborne got done wrong and I feel bad for him but honestly I can't image him being successful as Chair against such strong adversity by the 5 member voting bloc. The County Attorney should once again resign now since he doesn't represent the entire BOS as a whole. I wish Duffy had voted one way or the other rather than abstaining, guess he did't want to tick off either side. The big take away here is that the issues from 2015 linger even with new administration. Only time will tell if the truths will be brought to light and if there can be real transparency and accountability in Halifax County local government.

Comments

I commend Rev. Pannell and Mr. Simpson for maintaining their composer and attitude. This is normal for Mr. Claiborne, this is just the way he carry himself. He post all these spiritual bible quotes on Facebook but this is the way he acts. I am more surprised at Mr. Brandon. For him to support a man like Brian shows me that Mr. Brandon and Brian have a personal agenda and do not have this county interest at mind at all. I wonder if the tables was turned, would Brandon fight as hard to put Rev. Pannell in the seat. Mr. Brandon please come to your senses and leave this mess alone. We are a dying community and we need jobs, education and some growth. Take your engery and use it on something positive for your district and this community. what happen last night was a disgrace to this community and I commend Ms. Cowan for having that much passion for her county to speak the truth to you both. Please stop this and let's move forward in helping this county.

Comments

Mr or Ms Why, you call him Mr. Claiborne first, then Brian later.Seems personal to me. I commend Mr. Brandon for speaking due process because there was not due process in this meeting from what I have just read in this meeting. Reading this article it does seems to be a coverup. Why do you have to call a meeting to confirm a vote a second meeting if it was already legal? If it was due process based on the law and the rules, Mr. Claiborne is chairman. Everyone else must follow the law why not the board of supervisors. I commend Mr. Claiborne for standing up for right. Continue to do that sir. We have too many people who are scared to because they worry about how they are looked at by others. But if you are standing on the truth but standing alone continue. I see your Facebook posts and I see the real man. Your are my inspiration as many others feel the same.. I ask all others to go read them. There would get a grasp of the true man. Stay on point Mr. Claiborne.

Comments

If all of you would post your true names and emails on these blogs, I would respect you even if you are giving negative opinions about my husband. It would show me you truly believe what you are saying. If you think you are correct pleas give us your names. But please don't continue to scandalize his name unjustly. I love my husband. He stands for right. His Facebook posts, which he has been doing for the last nine or ten years didn't start yesterday. That is the true man you are seeing in these posts. He loves Halifax County, his fellow man but more importantly, he loves God. Go read his FB posts. And as he ends almost of them,
Be blessed

Comments

Mattie Cowan. Mr. or Ms. Why said the same thing you said at the meeting last night and out in the parking lot after the meeting. Guess you can't get over the fact that Mr. Claiborne divorced you years ago. You got your revenge at the meeting and with Ms. Why above. You are a woman scorned. Why did you do this? Get over it! SMH. "Why" sounds like you.

Comments

Mrs. Claiborne you are exactly right!

Comments

This is better than any soap opera!

Comments

Absolutely none of these elected officials have any business on the board if they do not know the basic rules. This county has gone to hell the past 20 years and it is a testament to this type of leadership. I'm 33 years old. You do not have to be older to have common sense.


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