Taylor quits Council seat after motion for criminal referral fails

Document disposal controversy leads to accusations of trespassing by Moss

South Hill Town Council member Ben Taylor resigned his seat Monday night during a heated council meeting that started 50 minutes late and included a call by Taylor to investigate trespass charges against fellow Council member Shep Moss.

Council rejected Taylor’s motion to refer a trespassing complaint against Moss to law enforcement for possible prosecution, but a majority of members did approve a separate motion by Taylor to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information on how Moss came in possession of photos and information that he has presented in recent months. Moss says the photos provide proof that Town Hall has improperly disposed of official documents.

The disagreement over the disposal of town documents has been ongoing for several months. In a past meeting, Moss brought to Council’s attention a number of photographs that purportedly depict the improper disposal of these documents — including the documents being left unattended on a loading dock and not being completely destroyed while burning, as prescribed by law. Moss has declined to reveal the source of the information.

Taylor alleged Monday that Moss’ receipt of the photos and information was criminal, obtained through trespassing at and removing documents from the disposal site without permission. Moss presented a plastic grocery bag containing these documents to South Hill Town Manager Kim Callis at the town’s July council meeting.

Moss vociferously denied the claim. “I have tried to get you the truth,” Moss said of his actions.

After the two motions by Taylor were voted on — one successful, one not — council convened in closed executive session, and when members returned to open session, Taylor made the announcement that “my moral compass will not allow me to be a part of an organization that turns its back on what we saw tonight.” Taylor said he was resigning from Council immediately and would be handing in his letter of resignation on Tuesday. He left Council members with the advice to “govern well” as the meeting adjourned.

In introducing both of his motions, Taylor said, “Based on information provided to Council, I move that Council make a Freedom of Information Act request that Councilman Moss provide all photos, emails, texts, correspondences and any other documents or records related to the photos taken at the town hall loading dock and the burn site adjacent to the town’s wastewater treatment plant.”

Council members Lilly Feggins-Boone, Mike Moody, Ben Taylor and Joseph Taylor voted in favor of the motion, while Alex Graham, Gavin Honeycutt, and Moss opposed it. Delores Luster was absent from Monday’s meeting. With the 4-3 vote, the motion passed.

Taylor then proceeded to present his second motion.

“After careful thought and consideration, “ he began, “and based on information provided to this council, I move to refer the matters of Mr. Moss’ behavior and allegedly trespassing and removing documents from the town’s possession, to the police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.”

Joseph Taylor seconded the motion and the matter was opened for discussion.

“This is so unfortunate, “ Honeycutt said. “At the end of the day for me, this is not about who took a picture or who removed papers. This is about what the Council was told and was presented. The truth was not told, in my opinion. There were pieces of the puzzle that were left out. And in my opinion, this is nothing more than a witch hunt. I remember Mr. Ben Taylor [in a recent meeting] many times accusing the fire department of [providing the photos in question].”

Honeycutt said the false accusations made by Taylor occurred three different times in one meeting. He said he had gone back and viewed the video of the meeting several times.

Honeycutt also said that Council was lied to during the course of this ongoing disagreement. “We were told somebody was there the whole time and then we found out otherwise,” he said regarding the burning of the documents being adequately supervised.

He also said that it was unfortunate that the disagreement had to “play out in public,” as “people are watching.”

“The real person to blame here is the one that gave us misinformation,” he added. “At the end of the day this is just a sad day for our town and I hate that this will be part of your legacy, when you leave here,” Honeycutt told Taylor.

Moss then addressed the citizens of South Hill in his defense, saying he has “worked extremely hard to stand up for transparency. I have tried to get you the truth.

“This is a nuclear personal attack,” Moss continued. “My job has even been threatened by whom I believe to be a sitting council member,” he said, displaying a letter in his hand. “This is nothing more than a diversion and a ploy to cover up lies and misinformation that were given to you and to this Council. If this Council decides to double down and triple down as to what has been said, then we’ll just play that game.”

Moss said everything he has done “has been in good faith and with intentions for the betterment of this town.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take a stand, put your big boy britches on and stand up for yourself,” Moss said. “Council will vote how they vote, but I stand behind my actions. My actions were created by lies by the town manager. And I will not stop fighting for transparency, honesty and truth for the citizens of this town, regardless of where this vote goes. I’m not going anywhere.”

Those in attendance at the meeting erupted into applause as Moss closed his statement.

Taylor countered Moss’ comments by saying that Moss had illegally trespassed and removed town documents.

“Those documents did not belong to [Moss], he had absolutely no right,” Taylor said. “There is no difference than coming into an office here and rummaging through a waste can or a file cabinet.”

Taylor also pointed out that all of the documents Moss removed may not have been included in the bag he presented to Callis.

Taylor turned to Moss and asked, “So, did you turn them all in?”

“If you have any other questions for me, you can talk to my attorney,” Moss replied to Taylor.

“He’s admitted going on posted property and taking documents,” Taylor said of Moss. “That’s illegal.”

Those in attendance at the meeting began to heckle Council about the situation. Talking all at once and over top of each other, several citizens and council members began to argue. Mayor Dean Marion attempted to regain control of the room as citizens shouted at Council members. He attempted to call for a vote as the crowd quieted, but Taylor said he still had the floor and continued.

“I am trying to talk,” Taylor said as the room began to stir in commotion. “This was staged. There are photos of the burn site and we’re going to find out who took them.”

Taylor asked Marion if he wanted to clear the room in order to proceed. Citizens continued to shout as Marion banged his gavel.

After more of Taylor’s comments visibly upset the room yet again, soliciting shouts from the audience, Marion warned regular meeting attendee Wade Crowder that one more outburst would see him removed from the meeting. Crowder, who has interrupted South Hill monthly council meetings on a number of occasions, volunteered to remove himself from the meeting and exited to the hallway. He did return moments later, but remained mostly quiet for the rest of the meeting.

Continuing the discussion, Honeycutt expressed a lack of trust in Callis, repeating the claim that Council had been provided misinformation and outright lies regarding the documents being destroyed. He told Taylor that he had launched an attack on Moss and said if Moss’ constituents wanted him removed from office it would be up to them to do it.

“This is nothing more than a smear campaign by you,” Honeycutt told Taylor.

Councilman Joseph Taylor, an attorney who seconded the motion on the floor, said he wasn’t concerned with popular opinion, but rather fairness and equal treatment of all under the law.

“What we know, what we have seen Mr. Moss do, is return documents to our town attorney in a bag that he stated he had obtained from what we have considered to be a burn site operated by the town,” Joseph Taylor said. “That is not in controversy. That is not debatable, it is by his own admission. It is literally by his physical admission. So why does that matter? My concern is that any documents were removed by any officer or non-officer from a town facility. We as Council members are not empowered to remove those documents. We must follow the rules. This is not merely a matter of trespassing, it may be a matter of larceny.”

Joseph Taylor pointed out that removing the documents could be a Class 6 felony.

Moody called the situation a “he-said, she-said” and noted he supported the FOIA request, but did not support the second motion regarding criminal prosecution.

“I don’t think this is the correct way to pursue this matter,” Moody said.

After more discussion, a motion had to be made to cut off the discussion so Council could vote. The motion to end discussion passed and the group finally voted on whether or not to refer the matter to police for investigation and possible prosecution.

Voting in favor of a criminal referral were Ben and Joseph Taylor, while the remaining members voted against it, causing the motion to fail by a 5-2 margin.

 

2 responses to “Taylor quits Council seat after motion for criminal referral fails”

  1. Liza Fulto says:

    Wow!!! That was a great read! I totally pictured the scene!

  2. Hope Nelson says:

    👀🫣😔

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