After a series of trials in March, Robert Jeffrey Jr. (D) was found guilty of misappropriation of funds and embezzlement of CARES Act money designed as Covid relief. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sheri Mason alleges Jeffrey stole over $100,000 through a wide range of cash withdrawals and other nefarious acts. Sentencing is for June 7, and it could lead to up to twenty years behind bars.
Jeffrey was elected to Roanoke City Council in the controversial November 2020 elections that Council had postponed from May till November of that year. According to the Virginia Department of Elections, Patricia Ann White-Boyd (D) was the top vote-getter with 21,892 votes in that contest. Jeffrey (D) was second with 13,188, and Stephanie Miranda Moon (I) was third with 12,857. As the top three vote-getters, those three won a seat on Council. Coming in fourth with 11,268 and thus not winning a seat was Peg McGuire (R).
Jeffrey’s series of court appearances, which ended on March 17, triggered an abrupt and in some cases controversial cascade of events. Moreover, according to allegations by former Mayor David Bowers (I), some of the events have been illegal.
Thursday, March 17: According to WSLS.com, Roanoke City Attorney Timothy Spencer claimed: “This afternoon former Council Member Robert Jeffrey pleaded guilty to a felony and waived his right to appeal. The court has accepted his plea agreement and found him guilty of this felony. Since Mr. Jeffrey waived his right to appeal as part of his plea agreement, all rights of appeal under Virginia law have expired. Therefore, in accordance with Virginia Code Section 24.2-231, Mr. Jeffrey has forfeited his seat on City Council. City Council will meet in closed session to consider its legal options in filling the vacancy on Council.”
Friday, March 18: The Roanoke Star published a commentary by Maynard Keller (R), who came in seventh in the 2020 City Council race, “Fair is Fair, Peg McGuire should be appointed to fill seat vacated by Robert Jeffrey Jr.” Speaking of his former running-mate, Keller explained: “She worked very hard and placed fourth in the City Council election and won 12 out of Roanoke’s 22 precincts. Had the voters of Roanoke City known that Mr. Jeffrey was embezzling and misappropriating funds, would they have voted for him?”
Thursday, March 24: According to information from the City Clerk’s Office, Roanoke City Council published the process and timeline for finding a new council member. That text can be read here.
For some reason, even though the Clerk’s announcement is dated March 24, WSLS.com posted the story on the following Monday, March 28 at 3:55 pm, writing “On Monday, [March 28] Roanoke City announced it is seeking applicants for a new city council member, saying residents will vote for their pick during the 2022 general election in November.” By the time that news story was posted, the 4:00 pm Friday, April 1 deadline for applicants was only four days away.
Monday, April 4, around 9:00 am: An announcement was made that sixteen applicants had submitted their paperwork by the Friday, April 1 deadline. The City Council members then had a closed-door meeting.
Monday, April 4, 2:49 pm: WSLS.com announced “One of these 6 people will temporarily replace Robert Jeffrey Jr. on Roanoke City Council.” The text added: “the Council announced it will be interviewing six individuals on Monday, April 4, beginning at 3 p.m.” Adding to what seems like an unusual sense of urgency surrounding the whole process, that information was posted eleven minutes before the interviews were to start.
No mention was made of the remaining ten applicants who were not selected for interviews. Moreover, for a position as important as that of a City Council member, no explanation is given why the biographical and background information is so scant for some candidates, and non-existent for others.
The WSLS.com report continues:
Here’s the interview schedule: (10 News could not find clarifying information for each candidate)
Suzanne Osborne – 3 p.m.
Kiesha Preston – 3:30 p.m.
- In 2020, Preston ran as an independent, finishing sixth among the eight candidates running for three open seats
Anita Price – 4 p.m.
- A Democrat, Price previously served on Roanoke City Council from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2020.
Luke Priddy – 4:30 p.m.
- A Democrat, Priddy serves as the chief of staff for Virginia State Senator John Edwards, who represents Virginia’s 21 District which contains all of the city of Roanoke and Giles County, as well as parts of Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
Kevin Berry – 5 p.m.
- Berry works as the Community Outreach and Marketing Manager for the Rescue Mission of Roanoke.
Raekwon Moore – 5:30 p.m.
The WSLS report ended with: “As far as what the Council is looking for, Mayor Sherman Lea spoke to 10 News on Monday.
‘Somebody that can come on board and fall right in and help us with the critical decisions we need to make over the next several months. We looked at each of the applicants so we think we have a good pool to select from,’ said Lea.”
The City website has this video from Council’s 2:00 meeting on April 4. At timestamp 1:07, the interviews appear to begin.
Notably, of the six candidates selected for final consideration, one, Raekwon Moore, reportedly did not appear at the 7:00 pm hearings.
Writing on April 9 about the odd and seemingly rushed timing of the entire event, Keller had this to say:
“I guess the 16 applicants were supposed to take off work for the afternoon or the whole day, be ready for a 30-minute interview before City Council, and have friends and neighbors sign up before 4:00 p.m. so they could attend the 7:00 pm. public hearing to say how great the chosen ones were. What seemed odd is that registration to speak at the public hearing closed at 4:00 p.m. At every public hearing I’ve been to—many—they let you register to speak until 7:00 p.m. In other words, you hear about the people chosen, then decide to speak for or against them. You show up in person, and the City Clerk registers you to speak. This is the first time I’ve seen them cut off registration early. They didn’t even have a person checking you in or telling you in what order you were speaking. It’s almost like they didn’t want citizens to share their concerns. What if you were at work all day and found out the names of the chosen after work? What if a citizen had a major concern with one of the chosen? In my opinion, they didn’t want any dissent. City Council had already made up their minds, and the voice of the citizens was irrelevant—as in other public hearings. I completed the city’s online registration form on Sunday, so I wouldn’t miss the 4:00 p.m. cutoff. My express purpose was ‘To address equity in the City Council appointment process for the unexpired term of Robert Jeffrey, Jr.’”
At the 26:00 mark, Keller is asked to speak. When only about one minute into his allotted three minutes, Mayor Sherman Lea (D) pounded the gavel and, after a heated back and forth, silenced Keller and demanded he return to his seat, claiming Keller could only speak for one of the finalists. In return, Keller explained he was speaking for both Peg McGuire and the 11,268 Roanokers who had voted for her in 2020.
Taking umbrage at Mayor Lea silencing him at the April 4 hearing, Keller has since branded his remarks “The Forbidden Speech.” The text of Keller’s intended speech is given below:
“Mayor Lea, Vice-Mayor White-Boyd, members of Roanoke City Council, staff, and Roanoke citizens. My name is Maynard Keller and I am President of American Financial Planning, President of the Roanoke Valley Region AACA, Vice-Chairman of the Roanoke City Republican Committee, and I serve as an Elder at Hope of Israel Congregation.
You have two basic choices for appointing a new City Council member:
- You can choose someone who will rubber stamp your agenda and agree with everything you say. In other words, a “yes man” or a “yes woman.” There are plenty of people who will do that for you.
- Or you can choose someone who offers a different perspective, a perspective that 11,268 people agreed with in the last City Council election, a perspective that is not currently represented on City Council, a perspective which you disenfranchised this afternoon, when you refused to even interview Peg McGuire.
Vice-Mayor White Boyd, when you lost your 2016 City Council race by 49 votes, how did you feel? When City Council later appointed you to fill an open seat, did you feel vindicated that your hard work was not in vain?
There’s a word that has become popular recently. The word is “equity.” You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means. Basic fairness says to listen to the voters, to listen to the citizens of Roanoke.
You speak of equity in housing and equity in education. Roanoke even has an Equity & Empowerment Advisory Board.
True Equity is choosing someone who ran a Roanoke City Council campaign with her blood, sweat, and tears.
Equity is choosing someone who received 11,268 votes from Roanoke citizens.
Equity is appointing the person who came in 4th place, whether Democrat or Republican.
We’re not seeing equity from this city council; rather we’re seeing arrogance, that you know better than the citizens of Roanoke who voted for Peg.
We’re seeing a self-serving City Council, an echo chamber, afraid of diverse opinions.
People are tired of the almost daily shootings, the 400% increase in homicides, and real estate taxes going through the roof.
You should have learned something from last November, but you didn’t. This November, the citizens of Roanoke will have a choice. The Red Wave that started last November is coming to Roanoke this November.
See you at the polls.”
Thursday, April 7: As reported here, The Roanoke Star reached out to Mayor Lea to let him express his position and any important information that would put the heated exchange on April 4 between him and Keller into context.
When asked why he gaveled Keller into silence, Lea explained “That was not a normal hearing or a citizens’ forum. It was to voice comments about the five candidates we interviewed, it was not about the process. That’s not the hearing to voice concerns about the process, that’s for another time.” Lea claimed that it had been made clear, in print and verbally, before the April 4 hearing that it was to include comments for the chosen candidates only. When asked to email a copy of that printed document, Lea promised to do so, but none has been received as of publication time.
When asked to explain the reasoning why Peg McGuire was not selected, since she had come in fourth in the 2020 elections, Lea countered: “We don’t do that, (…) We never state to the public why we vote for someone, or why we don’t vote for someone. (…) I don’t get into why David Bowers or Dave Trinkle or Linda Wyatt weren’t selected.” When questioned that many see giving McGuire the seat as a matter of basic fairness, Lea responded: “Run again–she didn’t get elected.”
Friday, April 8: Seeking further input into this controversy, The Roanoke Star interviewed four-term former Mayor David Bowers, who also submitted a letter of intent to fill the empty seat. In agreement with Keller but in sharp contrast to Mayor Lea, Bowers believed “The candidates should have been given a chance to introduce themselves. He added, if each of the original 16 candidates had been given five minutes, that would have taken less than an hour and a half.”
Bowers, an attorney, elaborated: “At 9:00 am that morning, [April 4], you had 16 candidates, and at 2:00 they announced they had six finalists. Between 9:00 and 2:00, Council made a decision, and the decision was to limit the number of interviews to six, and one withdrew, so it was five. I don’t think Council should have done that in closed session. (…) This Council seems to have a lot of closed sessions.”
By rushing the process and limiting both candidates and citizen input, “It lends itself to the appearance that Council has already made its decision.” Bowers continued: “I’ve been on that Council for one-third of my life, and 16 years as Mayor. During all those years, there were two or three times I threatened to walk out of a closed meeting, and told the others that I did not want to break state law.” Bowers claimed that Council discussions can be private, but “State law says you can’t make decisions in the back room.”
Based on the seriousness of Bowers’ allegation, The Roanoke Star has reached out to the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond to see if they have a statement for our readers about this situation and if indeed state law has been breached. No response has been received as of publication time.
Bowers added, “The Number One issue on the minds of Roanokers is gun violence. We don’t want Roanoke to be like Baltimore or Chicago. The City Council has implemented a gun violence prevention strategy, but I deem that to be a long-term solution, and we need an immediate response to a very violent and concerning issue. So in addition, we need a gun violence apprehension strategy, and that means we need to fully fund and staff our police department, put more police on patrol, and move more detectives onto the streets. I hear the Roanoke City Police is now down about 75 officers.”
Bowers ended his interview by explaining that, this November, four seats on Roanoke City Council will be up for grabs. He indicated that if enough City residents are fed up with the violence, unsupported Police force, lack of responsiveness to citizens, and back-room deals, “The City could send a message that they plan to take back City Hall, which would be my recommendation.”
This story is continuing.