Showdown in Hill City

Stephanie Reed, Mayor, City of Lynchburg Photo credit: Lynchburg City Council

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The members of the Lynchburg City Council have been embroiled in fighting among themselves for the past year. At the close of the year, the council took the unprecedented step of censuring one of its members.

Because of the dearth of the coverage of local government by today’s media, not much news of those goings-on has filtered to the eastern portion of the Commonwealth. Fortunately, we have Cardinal News, along with The News & Advance, to chronicle these events. Using FOIA requests, Cardinal News was able to use e-mails and phone conversations among the members to report and comment extensively on the situation.

Marty MIsjuns, member of Lynchburg City Council. Photo credit: Lynchburg City Council

The main characters in this drama have been Stephanie Reed, the mayor, and Marty Misjuns, at-large member of city council.

Before getting into the current controversy, a little prologue will help shed some light on the situation. In January 2021, Misjuns was a captain in the city fire department and the Ward I chair of the Lynchburg Republican City Committee. That month, he posted on his Facebook page political cartoons that included “caricaturized illustrations of transgender women.” In October 2021, the Lynchburg Fire Department fired him. His Facebook page identified him as a “public figure” due to his party position. Misjuns sued the city claiming wrongful termination, violation of equal protection, conspiracy, municipal liability, violation of First Amendment freedom of speech rights, and violation of First Amendment freedom of religion rights. In April 2023, a federal judge dismissed all the claims except for the First Amendment claims. Those claims were allowed to proceed to the discovery phase. Misjuns appealed the dismissal of the other claims to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The trial for the upheld claims is set for mid-March of 2024. No date has been listed for the appeals to be heard.

In the meantime, while Misjuns was fighting with the city in 2022, he was part of a Republican slate running for city council. That slate, comprised of Reed, Misjuns, and Larry Taylor, won. The three Republican newcomers, in combination with two Republican members who were not up for re-election, Jeff Helgeson and Chris Faraldi, gave the Republicans a 5-2 majority on the council, the first time in decades that Republicans had the majority.

Soon after the election, Congressman Bob Good called Faraldi to lobby for the selection of Helgeson as mayor. Before getting to the main object of his phone call, however, he upbraided Faraldi for having voted for the city budget, which Good considered too large. Faraldi pointed out that, although he was in the minority at the time, he did get the Democrats on city council to accept a real estate tax credit. Good was not mollified. He got even angrier when Faraldi pushed back on the idea of supporting Helgeson for mayor, saying that Helgeson had been ineffective during his time on the council. At that point, Good exclaimed, “Chris, I’m going to level with you—I’ve always thought you were a self-serving, ambitious, untrustworthy politician.”

When the new council met in January 2023, Misjuns and Taylor backed Helgeson for mayor, but Republicans Reed and Faraldi joined with Democrats MaryJane Dolan and Sterling Wilder on a 4-3 vote to name Reed mayor. The same 4-3 vote resulted in Faraldi being named vice major over Helgeson. Reed added insult to injury by not reappointing Helgeson to the finance committee, where he most recently served as chair, but to the physical development committee. In addition, she did not appoint Misjuns to either committee.

It went downhill from there. Over the next few months, Helgeson was caught on a hot mic calling Reed “the stupidest person on earth I’ve ever seen,” (he denied saying that) and Misjuns accused Reed of having no integrity, throwing tantrums, and presiding with an iron fist, along with other insults.

For her part, Reed accused Misjuns of trying to recruit a Liberty University student to wear a body camera to try and set up Faraldi at one of his town meetings. She also criticized him for being rude and threatening to city employees.

The Cardinal News articles quote at length e-mails it obtained through a FOIA request between and among council members. One e-mail string in particular was surprising. A citizen had written to all the council members expressing concern that the city schools were not being adequately funded. Misjuns replied, “We are actually providing record funding for instruction at [Lynchburg City Schools].” Dolan, one of the Democrats, weighed in saying that statement was misleading because the total “is not more money” for the school system. The two went back and forth, insulting each other, while all the time including the citizen in the list of persons being copied on their e-mails.

Based on the reporting, Misjuns’s biggest issue was the need for the council to assert more control over city personnel matters. He contended that “at least half of the leadership team would need to be relieved of their duties.” Reed countered that, under the city’s form of government, personnel matters were the responsibility of the city manager, not the council. “It’s not our job to interfere with the processes that are already in place, but to work alongside our city manager if there are concerns,” she said. It was Misjuns’s position that the majority could do what it wanted to do.

One of his major efforts in this area was a repeated insistence of bringing up a resolution he drafted on “Merit, Excellence, and Opportunity.” The resolution decried “divisive concepts” and Misjuns posited it as a replacement for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over the months after he first proposed the resolution, a majority of the council resisted his efforts to get it on the agenda for a vote and, in October, even rejected, by a vote of 4-3, an amended motion to send it to a work session for discussion.

Finally, in November, Reed had had enough. At the council meeting on November 28, she moved to suspend the rules temporarily and add a motion of censure to the agenda. Among the reasons included in the censure document were: “disorderly behavior and misconduct,” threats and insults to city staff, attempting to “illegally impose” authority in city personnel matters that are “by law and contract within the purview of the City Manager,” and attempting to “solicit assistance for conducting a ‘set-up’ for a colleague’s town hall meeting with the intent of making said colleague ‘look bad’.”

The censure imposed a fine equal to one month of Misjuns’s council member’s annual salary of $10,000, about $833.  The resolution passed on a vote of 5-2, with only Misjuns and Helgeson voting against it. Republican Paul Taylor, whom Dwight Yancey of Cardinal News called the “most mild-mannered member of the council,” said to Misjuns, “Marty, we campaigned together. We campaigned together hard to have a majority on council. I love you brother, but your attitude has been out of order, OK? We need to bring it in and if you make an open apology to council, to city staff and we can just do this resolution and move forward. We can start all over again.”

Misjuns did not apologize. Later, he commented to the press, “I was elected by Republicans to govern as a Republican and I’m going to do that.” Misjuns has sued the city, city council, and the city manager claiming that the censure and fine violated “city code, state law and both the Virginia and U.S. constitutions.”

Going into the new year, the city of Lynchburg has one council member who has been censured and who has two lawsuits pending against the city.


Cardinal News

News & Advance

Daily Progress

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15 responses to “Showdown in Hill City”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    I believe they call this “coalition government”.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Reminds me of Warrenton town politics.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      Or Haymarket town politics. Or Manassas Park city politics.

      Wasn’t there some drama in Winchester a few years back? Maybe this stuff is the norm.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Totally! Boss Hogg might have been a saint compared to the cronies running my town.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Don’t forget Gloucester. They invented this stuff.

  3. Not Today Avatar

    Yikes! Republicans behaving badly.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Toward each other! Yahoooo!

  4. Once again, they seem to be doing their best to earn the moniker “party of stupid”.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      At the local level, political labels mean nothing. They all equally suck.

  5. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll


  6. VaPragamtist Avatar

    What a cluster. . .

    But I do take issue with this: attempting to “illegally impose” authority in city personnel matters that are “by law and contract within the purview of the City Manager”

    I just pursued Lynchburg’s charter and ordinances. I’m not seeing how a council member being aggressive or trying to influence staff is “illegal”. Bad practice? Sure. But not illegal.

    I suspect Reed’s assumption stems from a common misunderstanding of the council-manager form of government. The CM form simply means council appoints a CAO. That’s it. Many local governments (thanks to ICMA, NLC, and other professional advocacy groups for managers), falsely assume a CM government means more than that. . .”weak mayors”, a politics-administration dichotomy, and so on.

    The details, best practices, etc. of the CM form are all left to the interpretation and discretion of the elected officials in that locality.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Not illegal, but pretty much undercuts/harms the in-house supervisory structure and roles and encourages/incentivizes dysfunction IMO.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I wondered about this, too. There are indications, however, that Reed consulted legal advice in support of her positions. In several of the e-mails quoted in Cardinal News, it is clear that the city attorney is included in the discussion and she asks for his opinion in the e-mail. The attorney’s response is redacted (legal advice is exempt from FOIA). The News & Advance reported that Reed said she used “outside counsel” to draft the censure resolution. Therefore, I assume that her position and the language in the resolution have a legal foundation.

      The censure resolution refers to authority provided the city manager by contract. It is customary now for cities and counties to enter into contracts with their chief administrative officers (managers), setting out the terms of their employment and their duties and authority. It could be that Lynchburg’s contract with the city manager delegated authority over personnel to the manager. Contracts can be changed, but that would take the action of the entire council.

      One example cited in the Cardinal News articles involved Misjuns trying to add a closed session dealing with personnel to the agenda without first trying to resolve whatever issue he had with the city manager. Reed resisted this attempt, saying that there were established procedures that needed to be followed. There may been more than one such attempt by Misjuns.

      It seems obvious to me that this ambush (resolution drawn up by outside counsel added to the agenda on the day of the meeting, rather than discussed in work session ahead of time in accordance with council rules of procedure) was orchestrated by Reed in consultation with at least Faraldi and possibly the two Democrats. If more people that just Faraldi were involved, there is a question of a violation of the FOIA open meeting rules. She could have left the Democrats out of the loop, assuming that they would go along.

  7. Marty Misjuns and his loser friend Joshua Daniel Pratt harass Lynchburg city official.

    1. Who is “Joshua Daniel Pratt?” No one knows — he once used the name “Josh Solovsky”.

      Here is what his son has to say about him.

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