APPALACHIA — Mayor Teddie Collins has allegedly suggested that town council members should not be able to speak to the news media without the town manager’s permission.
The topic allegedly came up during a closed meeting last month.
During last Thursday’s council meeting, resident Robert Anderson Sr. alleged that a closed meeting at last month’s council meeting included discussion of matters other than what is specified as appropriate under state law.
On July 18 council entered into a closed meeting under Virginia code section 2.2-3711(A). The stated purpose of the closed meeting was to discuss personnel, acquisition or disposition of publicly held property and consultation with legal council.
Anderson Sr. stated that he later found out that council discussed other matters, calling it a “witch hunt” against council member Travis Anderson, who is his son.
“Councilman Travis Anderson was subjected to a witch hunt by Mayor Collins for voting against the fiscal budget for the town of Appalachia and then discussing with the press as to why he voted against the budget,” said Robert Anderson Sr.
He stated that Collins was “in strict violation of the code of Virginia pertaining to closed meetings.”
During an Aug. 19 interview, Travis Anderson confirmed that council discussed his comments to the press.
“I was really, unbelievably shocked that this happened,” said Anderson. “We went into closed session in regards to personnel matters and, yes, that was discussed, but the initial part of the closed session did involve me. I’m not personnel, I’m an elected official.”
Anderson didn’t say who initiated the discussion, but confirmed that it was about his response to the media in regard to the town’s 2019-20 fiscal budget.
“Where I was sitting, there were pieces of paper with my comments in the newspaper given to the council members,” said Anderson.
Council was in closed meeting for one hour and five minutes. Anderson stated that while personnel issues were discussed, the conversation about his comments to the press lasted between 20-30 minutes.
“I cannot talk about those things,” said Anderson of the personnel issues, “but me, I can discuss because I am not personnel. ”
According to Anderson, after the discussion, it was proposed by Collins that council shouldn’t speak to the press without approval from the town manager. “That’s when the attorney Mike Abbott then stepped in,” said Anderson.
Anderson, who is also deputy chief of the Appalachia Fire Department, stated that he felt singled out. “I don’t hold personal grudges. I’m not out for anything with this.
“When I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something. The people here in this town know what my job title is,” said Anderson.
He continued: “They put trust in me to protect them in the event of a disaster, fire emergency, medical emergency or whatever . . . These people call me and put trust in me. They put their lives in my hands to protect them. There should be no difference between my position and what I do here and an elected official. These people put trust in me to do the right thing and speak up for them. If we’re going to have a government, the government needs to be responsible and the government needs to follow the law.”
Anderson reiterated that he is not personnel and, as an elected official, he gave his personal and professional opinion on the budget.
In an email, Town Manager Fred Luntsford responded, “The Appalachia Town Council went into closed session on July 18th under Virginia Codes 2.2-3711 (A) (1), personnel and (3), acquisition or disposition of publicly held property and (7), consultation with legal counsel.”
He continued: “The town attorney is always present to make sure the conversations in the session do not stray from the topics that can be legally discussed and is very quick to keep order as described by the code of Virginia regarding closed session. When council returned to regular session, the certification, as required by the code, was read and, as recorded in the minutes of that meeting, was voted on by a called vote and all members of council voted in favor of accepting the certification. That unanimous vote certified from each council member that no discussions were heard in closed session other that what was to be heard under the Virginia Codes stated before the closed session occurred.”
In a separate email, town attorney Abbott concurred with Luntsford's statement.
No other council members could be reached by press time Wednesday for comment.