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Who won it? Dispute arises after vote for Board of Supervisors chair

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Pannell, left, and Clairborne
SoVaNow.com / January 13, 2020
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors elected ED-3 representative Hubert Pannell as their 2020 chairman at the annual organizational meeting last week in Halifax.

Or did they?

A dispute has arisen about the validity of the chairmanship vote after ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon challenged the outcome the day after the Monday night board meeting.

Brandon, who nominated William Bryant Claiborne for the top leadership position, has pointed out an oddity in how the voting for Claiborne, followed by the subsequent vote to elect Pannell, was conducted.

Both times the question of who should be chairman was put to a show of hands; members voted only in support of their preferred candidates, not against.

No member of the board cast a formal vote in opposition to either Claiborne or Pannell. Because Claiborne’s name was placed into nomination first, County Administrator Scott Simpson, who presided at the opening of the meeting in the absence of a chair, called a vote on his candidacy first.

Claiborne received three votes — from Brandon, ED-4 supervisor Ronnie Duffey and himself.

That’s where the voting should have ended, Brandon contends, because a 3-0 vote represents a board majority. Abstentions wouldn’t matter under this reading of Robert’s Rules of Order, the procedural framework used by the Board of Supervisors to conduct meetings.

Simpson acknowledged Friday that Brandon has raised a valid question that board members must now sort out.

“It was not a ‘nay’ vote, so I would consider that as either a non-vote or an abstention,” said Simpson.

Pannell won the second vote by a 5-0 count, with eventual vice chair Garland Ricketts (ED-7), Jeff Francisco (ED-2) and board newcomers Dean Throckmorton (ED-5) and Ricky Short (ED-1) joining Pannell in the majority. But members on the other side of the dispute have challenged whether that vote should ever have been held, given the outcome of the first vote.

In the same vein, members also question whether any of the subsequent actions taken during the board meeting are valid since — in their view — the wrong chairman presided over the proceedings.

Multiple attempts to reach Brandon for comment this week were unsuccessful, but Claiborne, citing the rules of parliamentary procedure, said he considers himself to be the rightful chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “Yes, I do,” he said.

Robert’s Rules of Order stipulates that “[w]hen a quorum is present, a majority vote, that is the majority of votes cast, ignoring blanks, is sufficient for the adoption of any motion that is in order, except [specific situations] which require a two-thirds vote,” according to RulesOnline.com, an online resource on parliamentary procedure.

With a quorum present, and with three votes cast comprising the majority, the vote naming him chairman should stand, said Claiborne. All eight board members were present at the meeting.

“According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the bylaws do not specify that a majority of the board is required to elect a chairman,” said Claiborne. “Robert’s Rules of Order says the person that receives the majority of the vote, that person is elected with that vote.

“It’s legitimate and considered binding when that happens. From that point on, under Robert’s, that person is chairman,” said Claiborne.

Contacted for a response this weekend, Pannell declined to comment on the matter. Vice Chairman Ricketts, also reached this weekend, said he wouldn’t address the specifics of the argument, but “I don’t know any reason why it [Pannell’s election] would be considered illegitimate.”

In a three-page memorandum emailed to board members on Thursday, Simpson spelled out the sequence of actions at Monday’s meeting: first, nominations were entered on behalf of Claiborne and Pannell, in that order; nominations were then closed on an 8-0 vote; then the 3-0 vote was taken for Claiborne, followed by the 5-0 vote for Pannell.

“In my capacity as [interim] chair and presiding officer, I concluded that three votes were not a majority of the Board for the purposes of electing a Chairman,” Simpson wrote to supervisors. “In making that determination, I considered that five members [of the eight-member board] had not voted on the initial nomination and that another nomination was pending before the Board.

“I considered there to be only one question before the Board — the election of the Chairman,” Simpson continued in the memo. “The objective, as I understood it, was to determine the will of the majority of the Board on that question. Accordingly, I proceeded to the next nomination.”

After that second vote, this time resulting in a 5-0 majority, “ Pannell moved to the Chairman’s seat in the center of the dais and proceeded to preside over the remainder of the meeting without objection from any other member of the Board,” Simpson wrote.

However, the county administrator received a visit from Brandon the next day “to raise a point of order regarding the vote for Chairman.

“He contends that no vote concerning Supervisor Pannell should have been conducted at that time. Finally, he expressed his concern that all remaining meeting activities and votes that evening are invalid because theincorrect Chairman conducted the meeting,” Simpson outlined in his memo.

Asked about the assertion that the entire meeting is invalidated, Simpson said he believes the actions that the Board took the rest of the night should stand. “The fact of who was the presiding officer likely didn’t have a bearing on the outcome of the votes, but that’s in question, too.

“I think it needs to be clarified and determined. That’s all going to come, when we figure out the correct answers as we go forward,” Simpson said.

The remainder of the meeting dealt with mostly routine or non-controversial matters, although on one question — whether Halifax County should hire a lobbyist to press for a change in state tax incentives for solar energy development — Brandon, Claiborne and Duffey voted “no” in a 5-3 vote to proceed with the expenditure, capped at $5,000.

In his memo to supervisors, Simpson has suggested several options for resolving the dispute over who is rightful chairman. A key issue, wrote Simpson, is whether Brandon’s point of order, brought up the day after the meeting, is itself valid, citing a 15-hour rule for registering questions or objections, although there are exceptions to that rule that “may apply in these circumstances,” Simpson wrote.

Under his suggested framework, it would be up to the presiding officer — Pannell, as chairman — to rule whether Brandon’s point of order is timely and should therefore be considered. Pannell’s options would include striking down the request, agreeing to it and conceding the chairmanship to Claiborne, or putting the matter to a full vote of the board.

Two members voting in concert could appeal any ruling of the chairman, again sending the matter to the full board for a vote.

“Ultimately, whether by point of order or appeal, any question concerning the outcome of the election of the Chairman at the organizational meeting must be resolved by the full Board,” concluded Simpson. “This could be handled at the February meeting” or at a special meeting called by two supervisors.

In the opening paragraph of the memo, Simpson wrote that he reached his conclusions in consultation with County Attorney Jeremy Carroll. Carroll was a key figure in the 2015 deadlock of the Board of Supervisors when Claiborne, in tandem with Pannell and then-supervisors Lottie Nunn and Barry Bank, sought the firing of then-county administrator Jim Halasz.

Halasz, backed by an equal four-member bloc of supervisors, survived the ouster attempt, but Carroll resigned, saying that he could no longer effectively represent the badly divided board.

With changes to the Board’s membership since 2015, Carroll has continued to serve in the capacity of county attorney — including now.

Claiborne said the framework suggested by Simpson is unacceptable because “if we go to Supervisor Pannell and raise the point of order, we would indirectly acknowledge him as chairman [and] we would indirectly waive our argument that he is not chairman.

“I feel like the memorandum does not address the issue of who should be chairman based on the parliamentary rules of Robert’s Rules of Order,” Claiborne added.

“His analysis is flawed. Either it’s flawed or it was done to circumvent Robert’s Rules of Order.”

Claiborne also said that Simpson isn’t the board parliamentarian, Carroll is. Citing Carroll’s role in the 2015 board debacle, Claiborne said the county attorney is biased against him.

“He is not my attorney and I don’t consider him to be the board attorney, either, because he has an inherent conflict of interest.”

Asked how far he intends to press his argument, Claiborne said, “I want to be a person who is fair, pursuant to rules and law … I would do this on behalf of the board or any board member, based on my interpretation of the rules. I thank Supervisor Brandon for raising the point.”



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Comments

What a bunch of babies. Get over it claiborne you lost. I am so sick of this virtue signaling. SMDH.

Comments

I'm not a claiborne fan, but I know Roberts rules and by the Rules, he is chairman. First nominated to receive majority of votes cast wins. Other super who failed to vote no handed home the chairmanship legally. We are a country of law and rules. have to put up with him.
Why did the other super abstain? Did they not know these rules? Pitiful. Pannell concede and move on.

Allpolitical2 you are right stop acting like spoiled kids and follow the law.

Comments

I too don’t care for Claiborne but he was elected Chair according to Roberts Rules. I thought the county administrator was supposed to be the expert on Roberts? At any rate, congrats to Claiborne and Pannell, suck it up to the cost of education.

Comments

If those 5 supervisors were so ignorant not to know abstaining instead of voting no would give the election to the other side, and that was the law, then we don't need any one of them serving as chairman anyhow. They don't know the law and rules. Follow the law!
Congratulations Mr. Claiborne!

Comments

This is a great representation of Halifax County of late. The BOS, and the School Board would be accomplished if they could find their way out if a paper bag.

Comments

I'm an out of towner but I am an expert at Robert Rules. The first gentleman (Claiborne) who received the first 3-0 vote is chairman. Abstentions don't count as no votes. This a a correctable error with no harm done to board it being an organizational meeting. This is a simple issue which should have been resolved as soon as is was reported.

Comments

I love the so called "experts". You do not want claiborne as chairman, he is a tax an spend liberal.

Comments

Meetings are ruled by Robert's Rules of order, not counties or any other political unit of Americans. Since it was the obvious intention of 5 members of the board to support Pannell, and only 3 to support Claiborne, it is just as obvious to anyone who doesn't live with their nose firmly planted in a copy of Robert's that Pannell won the office. This is just the type of time-and-money-wasting flim-flammery Democrats and other petty tyrants have been trying to overcome the will of the people of America for years, and a prime example of why Halifax County is not living up to its potential in government nor in industry or business or employment. What enterprise conducted by sane people would invest themselves in a county where important decisions are made by such fools?


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