Following a closed session at the conclusion of the Hillsville Town Council meeting Monday, the council accepted the resignations of Town Manager Larry South and Police Chief Steve Williams. Councilman Ed Terry, noting his “personal sadness” over the two’s decisions, made the motion to accept the resignations and council accepted unanimously. Both South’s and Williams’ resignations will take effect June 29.
Town Hall was overflowing with people, many of whom spoke during the citizens’ comments section of the meeting. Comments often grew heated between the supporters and critics of South and Williams.
One of the first to speak was Lawrence Childs, who said, “I’m concerned about the rumors that the police chief and town manager are going to be replaced. Hillsville is the best organized and best run of all the towns I’ve been in. The police chief is the best trained, best prepared to do a good job. The town manager does a great job leading the town. I say slow down, take a look at actions that will damage the town.”
Childs added that he has been circulating a petition in support of South and Williams. “Eighty percent of the people I’ve approached have been eager to sign it,” he said.
Cheryl Bowman claimed several of the town codes have been broken by the two men, including one involving “political activity” during the recent town elections.
“I know there have been town officers in uniform who have approached people in support of the mayor (Bill Tate) and town council. That’s a violation of the town code, which could lead to immediate dismissal,” said Bowman.
Williams was asked if he was in uniform at a polling station, and he responded he was there “to vote.”
She added she was also concerned about the conduct at the summer cruise-ins and music festivities.
“I know certain town people have been observed drinking alcohol during the concerts, but you (the council) want to protect two people who have been violating the town code.”
It was pointed out that if South and Williams were off-duty, they were entitled to have a beer, just like any other citizen. Bowman, however, disagreed, saying “they represent the town,” even when off-duty.
However, South and Williams weren’t the only ones to come under fire.
Mabel Tate, the mayor’s wife, charged councilman Billy Walls with distributing a “confidential email” to newly-elected mayor Greg Crowder. Tate claimed she had seen the email lying on the dashboard of Walls’ car during one of the cruise-in/concerts.
“I consider my vehicle private,” said Walls, adding that he asked town attorney Andrea Tolbert to print the email for him.
Tolbert said Walls “wasn’t able to access his email,” so she printed a hard copy of the email sent to the other council members.
Mayor Tate commented on the email, saying “someone leaked it out. People knew about it before we had an executive session.”
The first shots of the citizens’ comment section were fired at Crowder when Dawn Groseclose charged that “Crowder is not legally qualified to run for elective office in the Town of Hillsville” and that he received a “Bad Conduct Discharge” from the U.S. Military.
“As a retired member of the United States Air Force, having served honorably for over 20 years, I feel it is my right to know of Mr. Crowder’s military service. Additionally, if he received a punitive discharge, then the narrative reason could equate to a felony conviction in Virginia and he could be ineligible to vote or to own weapons,” said Groseclose.
“I request that Mr. Crowder provide a copy of his DD214, Member Copy 4, containing the narrative reason for his discharge for review by the town attorney to determine, if in fact, his discharge equates to a felony or his right to vote in Virginia.”
Groseclose also asked that Crowder submit a copy of “his 2011 federal and state tax returns to verify his legal residence, and place of abode as defined by Virginia law.”
“I did not get a dishonorable discharge and I have lived here for two years,” said Crowder, who agreed to submit both his military records and his state and federal tax returns to Tolbert so she could verify his eligibility for elected office. Crowder also denied receiving a “confidential email” from Walls.
Crowder added, “Please, let’s not be like the county. I will do the right thing (as mayor). I realize that 46 percent are not in favor of me, but keep in mind that 54 percent are, and that’s the majority. If you get behind me, I’ll take us to the top. Just give me a chance.”
Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Donnie Spangler addressed “a rumor” concerning newly-elected councilman David Young.
“There is no investigation of David Young for embezzlement (from the fire department). Those rumors are completely false,” said Spangler.