On Thursday, January 25, the Iron Gate Town Council met for their regularly scheduled “fourth Thursday of the month” meeting to discuss regular business. Following the prayer and pledge, Mayor Gary Craig requested a closed session to follow the meeting, which was voted on and passed unanimously.
Mayor Craig then moved on to the mayor’s report. Craig began by addressing the media’s —including Virginian Review, channel 7, and channel 10— requests for comment prior to the Jared Jenkins trial. Readers may recall that Jenkins’ trial was heard and decided upon on January 17th in the Rockbridge County Courthouse in Lexington. Before the hearing, the town would not offer a comment.
“Once that (Jared Jenkins’ trial) was done and I had spoken with Jared [Jenkins] and everything, I was contacted again and I did give a letter that was presented at council that we presented to Jared to be given to the court system in his support, and I did make a comment that I —and I felt that most of the council, but could not speak for most council— but I myself still believed in Jared, I still believe in Jared, still stand by Jared,” Mayor Craig said. “I know he [Jared Jenkins] has a motion for appeal in, or a motion to stay, and we’re waiting on that now. So until that, until it’s either time runs out or whatever, or we come to other arrangements, Jared is still town attorney. Jared [to Jenkins, who was present in the audience], I still support you 100%. I’ll stand behind you. I will state that, in his trial, the only thing that was really, should have really been questioned by anything —and I had no questions about it— was the fact that the money deal, and they kind of threw that out. So, as far as Jared disrespecting the court systems or speaking what he felt, I watched Jared do the same thing in our court system speaking up for us, how wrong it was for things to be done to us.”
Craig then moved on to discuss the purchase of jackets for the town maintenance/grounds workers, but there was a discrepancy over whether or not the workers actually wanted them. According to Councilwoman Kawahna Persinger, she had a discussion with the workers and they had disclosed to her that they would benefit more from the purchase of a riding lawnmower more than jackets. Craig disagreed and said he was “being told something completely different.”
Soon after, Councilwoman Persinger took time to discuss a work session that was open to the public on Monday, January 8th, when she went to Mayor Craig to ask for a copy of a letter that was read during the meeting. However, she was unhappy with Mayor Craig’s response to her request, stating that Craig asked her, “Under what circumstances?” Persinger also said that Craig told her “What is discussed in this room stays in this room.” Persinger then read aloud her issues with their exchange, citing that she had given the matter a lot of thought.
“My first issue with this was, as a member of council, I am entitled to a copy of anything that pertains to this council and Iron Gate, just basically under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I am allowed to ask for that and I shouldn’t be questioned as to why I want it,” Persinger said. She went on to say that anyone from the community could have heard what happened at the work session and “the reference that Mayor Craig said that ‘what happens in this room stays in this room,’ that is wrong and we shouldn’t be told that in any instance simply for the fact that’s going to give the impression that council has something to hide or that we’re not being truthful and upfront with the residents and we do not need that at all.”
Persinger also addressed a text message she sent to “Mayor Craig and all the council” on January 3rd requesting a closed session prior to the January 8th work session to “discuss options for this town [Iron Gate].” This seemingly follows Clifton Forge’s example, who held a meeting on December 31st regarding Jared Jenkins’ future with the town. Readers may recall that on New Year’s Eve, the Town of Clifton Forge decided to put Jenkins on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of his January 17-18 trial. Persinger said that what happened between Clifton Forge and Jenkins was “none of their concern,” but felt the town needed to have a plan of action.”
Following her text message, Mayor Craig reached out to other members of council to determine if they shared Persinger’s concerns. When no other members of council thought it necessary to hold a closed session, Craig did not reply to Persinger’s text, stating in Thursday’s meeting that he didn’t call her back because he “didn’t want to argue” with her. However, Persinger believed it was “rude” of Craig not to respond to her text, saying, “During the work session, Mayor Craig clearly stated that had received my text message, but he chose to ignore it.”
The conversation became heated once Craig responded to Persinger’s grievances, stating he felt he didn’t ignore Persinger, as he reached out to the other members of council. “I will call a closed session if the majority wants it,” Craig said. “The majority did not want it, said that they did not need it, so I let it go. I let it rest. We addressed it at the work session. It wasn’t ignoring you [Persinger]. ” Craig also stated that he “wasn’t going to argue about it.” Craig told Persinger that she “wasn’t going to bully him,” prompting Persinger to say, “No, that’s your job.”
Other business included:
— Approval of the minutes, which passed unanimously
— Approval for receipts and disbursements, which passed unanimously
— Vote for payment of the bills, which passed unanimously
— The issue of whether to purchase jackets or a riding lawn mower was tabled, pending a conversation with town workers
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