Suit ac­cuses su­per­vi­sor of con­flict of in­ter­est

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Patty Hardee Special to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

In a pe­ti­tion filed this Mon­day (Oct. 2) in Rap­pa­han­nock County Cir­cuit Court, Amissville res­i­dent Tom Wool­man ac­cuses Hamp­ton district su­per­vi­sor John Le­skin­ski of re­peat­edly vi­o­lat­ing Vir­ginia’s con­flict of in­ter­est reg­u­la­tions.

Wool­man’s pe­ti­tion, which asks for a declara­tory judge­ment and the court’s en­force­ment of the state Con­flicts of In­ter­est Act (COIA), also re­quests the ap­point­ment of a special prose­cu­tor or grand jury and Lesin­ski’s re­moval from of­fice. Wool­man is rep­re­sented by lo­cal at­tor­ney David Kon­ick.

The pe­ti­tion was served by Ma­jor John Arstino of the Rap­pa­han­nock County Sher­iff’s Of­fice just hours be­fore the board of su­per­vi­sors was set to hear and vote on two con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als. One of the pro­pos­als — seek­ing county sup­port for a multi-use trail that would even­tu­ally link Wash­ing­ton and Sper­ryville — was cited in the pe­ti­tion as one of four counts of Lesin­ski’s al­leged vi­o­la­tions of COIA.

Lesin­ski has 21 days in which to re­spond to the pe­ti­tion. When asked to com­ment, Lesin­ski replied in an email Tues­day, “At this time le­gal coun­sel has rec­om­mended I make no state­ments.”

The four counts in the pe­ti­tion out­line spe­cific in­stances when Le­skin­ski — as a

mem­ber and chair­man of the Rap­pa­han­nock County School Board be­fore be­ing elected to the su­per­vi­sor post in 2015 — al­legedly vi­o­lated COIA by ei­ther not dis­qual­i­fy­ing him­self from cer­tain trans­ac­tions or fail­ing to dis­close his eco­nomic in­ter­ests in the trans­ac­tions, as re­quired by law.

Lesin­ski, a li­censed Vir­ginia real es­tate agent, is a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Col­liers In­ter­na­tional, a global real es­tate bro­ker­age, and the list­ing agent for the Blue Rock Inn, an 80-acre prop­erty that sits di­rectly across Lee High­way from the county high school.

Al­though the pe­ti­tion states that Lesin­ski’s wife, Heidi Lesin­ski, a real es­tate agent with Cen­tury21/New Mil­len­nium, is co-bro­ker for the Blue Rock Inn, it does not name her as a co-re­spon­dent. Ac­cord­ing to COIA, of­fi­cers or em­ploy­ees of lo­cal gov­ern­ment must also abide by the law, if their im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers have eco­nomic in­ter­ests in cer­tain trans­ac­tions.

Count One al­leges that while Lesin­ski served on the school board, the board en­tered into ne­go­ti­a­tions in 2014 and 2015 with Com­mu­nity Wire­less Struc­tures to lease high school prop­erty for the place­ment of a com­mu­ni­ca­tions cell tower. After op­po­si­tion from the com­mu­nity to the cell tower, the school board voted 3-2 not to sign a con­tract with CWS. Lesin­ski cast one of the two votes in fa­vor of the con­tract.

(In 2014, Eric Tollef­son of Sper­ryville filed a Cir­cuit Court suit al­leg­ing the school board had vi­o­lated Vir­ginia Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act reg­u­la­tions in its ne­go­ti­a­tions with CWS. Tollef­son was also rep­re­sented by Kon­ick in that suit, which was set­tled out of court by the school board after it de­clined to en­ter the con­tract with CWS. Kon­ick has also in re­cent years filed Cir­cuit Court pe­ti­tions, or rep­re­sented clients who filed them, al­leg­ing FOIA, Con­flict of In­ter­est Act and pro­cure­ment law vi­o­la­tions by the town of Wash­ing­ton and the Inn at Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton.)

Wool­man’s pe­ti­tion as­serts that had the CWS con­tract gone through, the added cell and in­ter­net ca­pac­ity would have en­hanced the value of the Blue Rock prop­erty, and thus Lesin­ski should have dis­closed his in­ter­ests and re­cused him­self from the trans­ac­tion.

A sim­i­lar claim is made in Count Two, that the re­cently pro­posed Rap­pa­han­nock multi-use trail — which its pri­vate or­ga­niz­ers hope will ul­ti­mately con­nect Wash­ing­ton with Sper­ryville — would also en­hance the value of the Blue Rock Inn, and that Lesin­ski should have dis­closed his in­ter­ests and re­frained from vot­ing on the pro­posal. At the close of Mon­day’s nearly five-hour pub­lic hear­ing on the trail, he voted along with his fel­low su­per­vi­sors to ap­prove the trail, the first seg­ment of which will span the mile and a half be­tween the county’s el­e­men­tary and high schools.

Count Three refers to the su­per­vi­sors’ con­sid­er­a­tion of im­prove­ments to the county land­fill in Amissville in 2016. “The pro­posal in­volved an as­so­ciate of Re­spon­dent Lesin­ski at Col­liers, the son of the then Rap­pa­han­nock County At­tor­ney, Peter H. Luke,” ac­cord­ing to the pe­ti­tion.

Lesin­ski did re­cuse him­self from dis­cus­sions of the land­fill im­prove­ments, but did not, ac­cord­ing to the pe­ti­tion, “make any of the re­quired dis­clo­sures about the na­ture of his per­sonal in­ter­est in the trans­ac­tion.”

Count Four cites a pre­vi­ous le­gal ac­tion in which the BOS was ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the Vir­ginia Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion (FOI) Act. That pe­ti­tion was brought Nov. 7, 2016, by county res­i­dent and llama farmer Mar­ian Bragg, also rep­re­sented by Kon­ick. Kon­ick has ap­pealed the case to the Vir­ginia Supreme Court after Bragg’s pe­ti­tion was dis­missed in Au­gust by Rap­pa­han­nock County Cir­cuit Court Judge Al­fred D. Sw­er­sky.

Wool­man’s grounds for al­leg­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est in­clude Lesin­ski’s vote — along with three other mem­bers of the board — to au­tho­rize $100,000 in county funds to cover le­gal fees as a re­sult of Bragg’s pe­ti­tion.

Count Five re­quests the ap­point­ment of a special prose­cu­tor or grand jury, as “Rap­pa­han­nock County Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney [Art] Goff also serves con­cur­rently as County At­tor­ney for Rap­pa­han­nock County and as Re­spon­dent Lesin­ski’s per­sonal de­fense coun­sel in the Bragg case.”

(How­ever, the su­per­vi­sors con­vened a special meet­ing in Au­gust and voted unan­i­mously to au­tho­rize the ap­point­ment of an out­side lawyer to de­fend the board in an ap­peal to the Supreme Court of Vir­ginia.)

Count Six of Wool­man’s pe­ti­tion de­mands Lesin­ski’s re­moval from of­fice.

When asked if Goff would be de­fend­ing him, Lesin­ski re­ferred the Rap­pa­han­nock News to Goff, who did not re­turn a phone call.

Heidi Lesin­ski also de­clined to com­ment in a phone call Tues­day. And at­tempts to reach Wool­man for com­ment have been un­suc­cess­ful. When asked for a state­ment in a phone call Tues­day, Kon­ick said, “I think the pe­ti­tion speaks for it­self.”

Kon­ick has also in re­cent years filed Cir­cuit Court pe­ti­tions, or rep­re­sented clients who filed them, al­leg­ing FOIA, Con­flict of In­ter­est Act and pro­cure­ment law vi­o­la­tions by the county school board, the town of Wash­ing­ton and the Inn at Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton.

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