City Council stacks & packs authority with failed political candidate to assure favorable vote on 31st Street hotel project
Unsuccessful city council candidate Page Lea, considered by some to be a stooge of outgoing councilman Billy Harrison (see: Harrison paid $28,000 to settle sexual assault complaint) and Vice Mayor Will Sessoms, was appointed to the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority (VBEDA) by council in a 9-1 vote Tuesday night. He was proposed for the job by Harrison and nominated by Sessoms.
Involved in a conspiracy whereby he transferred his campaign funds to a pseudo conservation group founded to run attack ads against other candidates (see: Lea in conspiracy), Lea fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Betsy Duke, a banker, who was reportedly harassed by a councilman for failing to vote favorably last Friday to approve council's 31st Street hotel plan involving the city's two convict partners. Ruffin and Thompson are depositors at her bank and Ruffin was on the board of directors prior to his run-in with the law and subsequent felony conviction. She claimed that voting on the issue would have been conflict of interest. "I have always abstained on votes where I have a client relationship," Duke told VNS.
The appointment was so unquestionably a deliberate attempt to stack the VBEDA with members who'd vote Harrison and the council's way that City Atty. Les Lilley advised Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson to abstain.
She'd been abstaining on 31st Street hotel votes because her husband, an accountant does the books for the city's two convict partners. Voting on appointments to boards and commissions would normally be routine. But because of the obvious reason for appointing Lea was to stack the authority to vote favorably for the hotel project, it was decided that such a vote would constitute a conflict of interest.
Last Friday, the VBEDA killed the 5-year-old controversial project in a 3-3 tie vote with Duke absent and unable to vote because the two convicts, Edmund C. Ruffin and Bruce Thompson were depositors in her bank. Those voting against the project said they did so because the deal, as constructed, was not in the best interest of the citizens.
Now with Lea appointed to the authority, the issue can be brought back up, and if no other votes change, it should be approved 4-3.