Mayor: Com­ment ‘very threat­en­ing’

Jackie Shor­nak claims An­thony Zev­go­lis made pro­fane state­ment about putting her in jail

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Atkin­son As­sis­tant Edi­tor

Edi­tor’s Note: This ar­ti­cle con­tains cer­tain lan­guage that some may find in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

HOPEWELL — The city’s out­go­ing mayor has asked for po­lice pres­ence at next week’s City Coun­cil meet­ing in light of threats made by a fel­low coun­cilor at the pre­vi­ous meet­ing to “put your ass in jail” — a state­ment the coun­cilor de­nies mak­ing.

Jackie M. Shor­nak said the in­tim­i­da­tion she felt from Coun­cilor An­thony J. Zev­go­lis was so in­tense that she asked Hopewell’s in­terim po­lice chief to con­sider as­sign­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer as ad­di­tional se­cu­rity for the Dec. 11 closed and open meet­ings, which will be the last one for her and for Zev­go­lis as coun­cil mem­bers. She said she also plans to ad­dress it with City Man­ager John M. Alt­man prior to the meet­ing.

Mean­while, Zev­go­lis called Shor­nak’s claim “an id­i­otic state­ment,” adding he does not have the author­ity to put any­one in jail.

In a stream­ing video of the Nov. 27 coun­cil meet­ing, Zev­go­lis ap­proached Shor­nak im­me­di­ately af­ter ad­journ­ment and said some­thing to her. When she told him to leave her alone, he fol­lowed her and be­gan point­ing his fin­ger in her face.

“He came and got in my face and told me, ‘I’m go­ing to put your ass in jail. I’m go­ing to do it,’” Shor­nak said. “He was very threat­en­ing.”

The com­ment was not made di­rectly in front of a mi­cro­phone, but it was picked up by the feed’s au­dio. The Progress-In­dex closely lis­tened to the au­dio from the feed, and Zev­go­lis clearly can be heard say­ing it. He also men­tions jail in a cou­ple of other in­stances, but does not men­tion the pro­fane word. The Progress-In­dex also was able to get third-party ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the com­ment.

The video then shows Shor­nak calling for City At­tor­ney Ste­fan M. Ca­los to as­sist her. Zev­go­lis then is heard say­ing he was go­ing to put her in jail over his claims she was the sub­ject of a state po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cern­ing her con­duct in of­fice. He left the meet­ing, shout­ing Shor­nak was “the worst mayor in the his­tory of Hopewell.”

“What an id­i­otic state­ment by Jackie,” Zev­go­lis said in re­sponse to Shor­nak’s claim. “I, nor you, nor any­one else, other than a judge can throw any­one in jail.”

Zev­go­lis has re­peat­edly claimed he has doc­u­ments per­tain­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he has pro­vided to Vir­ginia State Po­lice and the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, but he has yet to pro­duce them in pub­lic. In com­ments made to The Pro­gressIn­dex, Zev­go­lis again claimed the ex­is­tence of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

State po­lice and a spokes­woman for the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said they could not com­ment on any in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pend­ing or com­pleted.

The con­fronta­tion fol­lowed a tense 45-minute dis­cus­sion over pro­posed lan­guage changes to the Hopewell char­ter per­tain­ing to ap­point­ment of the heads of the city’s boards and com­mis­sions, in­clud­ing the mayor and vice mayor on City Coun­cil. Specif­i­cally, any forms of the word “elected” or “elec­tion” would be changed to “ap­point” or “ap­point­ment” to not con­strue that the mayor was elected di­rectly by

the peo­ple.

Three years ago, the group Hopewell Ci­ti­zens for Good Gov­ern­ment sued the city over claims that the mayor and vice mayor were be­ing se­lected in closed ses­sion, a vi­o­la­tion of state trans­parency laws. The Vir­ginia Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act states that all ac­tion votes must be done in open ses­sion.

Even­tu­ally, a Hopewell cir­cuit judge ruled that Hopewell would be the only lo­cal­ity re­quired to dis­cuss the mayor and vice-mayor qual­i­fi­ca­tions in pub­lic.

Shor­nak and Coun­cilor Jan­ice Den­ton — the plain­tiff in the HCGG case — voted against the char­ter change, claim­ing that would push the se­lec­tion process back be­hind closed doors. Shor­nak vowed to lobby the Gen­eral Assem­bly as a pri­vate cit­i­zen against the changes.

Zev­go­lis claimed he walked over to a spot be­hind where Shor­nak was sit­ting and be­gan talk­ing to other coun­cilors in a voice loud enough for Shor­nak to hear.

“I said, ‘Why would any­one want to ad­vo­cate against the char­ter changes be­fore the Gen­eral Assem­bly?’” he claimed. “If they, the peo­ple, want to elect the mayor and/or vice mayor, then why not ad­vo­cate for that, and pos­si­bly have a voter ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue?

“While I was say­ing that, it was Jackie that turned around in her chair, and stood up to face me with her back to the cam­era and re­porters, and screamed with the most hate­ful look I have ever seen on her face, to get away from her, do not talk to her, and that she did not want any­thing to do with me any­more.”

Shor­nak said she did not ex­pect Zev­go­lis to do what he did, and “I didn’t pro­voke him to do this.” She said this was not the first time Zev­go­lis has threat­ened her, claim­ing he did it two years ago in closed ses­sion and would not al­low her to leave the meet­ing room be­fore another coun­cilor stepped in.

Zev­go­lis claimed he al­ways had shown re­spect to Shor­nak in her ca­pac­ity as a coun­cilor col­league and as mayor.

Shor­nak said she talked to po­lice and a lo­cal mag­is­trate about the pos­si­bil­ity of press­ing charges. Be­cause Zev­go­lis never touched her, she said, she was told that she prob­a­bly would have a hard time prov­ing any kind of as­sault.

Shor­nak said she still fears for her safety, and that is why she asked for the ex­tra po­lice pres­ence at the Dec. 11 meet­ing. Tra­di­tion­ally a Hopewell deputy sher­iff serves as cham­ber se­cu­rity. There was a deputy on duty Tues­day night but be­cause no phys­i­cal con­tact was made, he was un­able to step in.

“I just don’t want him any­where near me,” she said of Zev­go­lis. “I hope he does not ap­proach me be­cause I have noth­ing to say to him. He does owe me an apol­ogy.”

On the dais, Shor­nak and Zev­go­lis are sep­a­rated by Coun­cilor Brenda S. Pel­ham — another of Shor­nak’s most vo­cal crit­ics on coun­cil. Pel­ham and oth­ers on coun­cil claim Shor­nak has be­rated them be­hind closed doors and has posted hate­ful com­ments about them on so­cial me­dia.

Zev­go­lis said he also has been vic­tim­ized by Shor­nak and her sup­port­ers on coun­cil. He claimed

that a poster was once cir­cu­lated around Hopewell as­sert­ing that Zev­go­lis was try­ing to “buddy up” to the three African Amer­i­cans on coun­cil in an ef­fort to cre­ate a coun­cil coali­tion to name a new city man­ager.

Zev­go­lis has ac­cused Shor­nak and her sup­port­ers of “mak­ing my life a liv­ing hell” by claim­ing he fought to get his name to ap­pear in all cap­i­tal let­ters on the Novem­ber City Coun­cil bal­lot. Three names — Zev­go­lis, Coun­cilor Christina J. Lu­manBai­ley and Shor­nak’s op­po­nent, Pa­tience A. Ben­nett — ap­peared in all cap­i­tal let­ters on a draft bal­lot that was pushed by the city’s Elec­toral Board over state ob­jec­tions that it vi­o­lated cam­paign laws. All three de­nied they asked for the cap­i­tal let­ters.

“Since my re-elec­tion an­nounce­ment, my home had been egged twice, and my ve­hi­cle was also van­dal­ized twice,”

he said. “I was falsely ac­cused of want­ing my name placed on the bal­lot in all caps.”

Shor­nak also dis­puted claims made by Pel­ham fol­low­ing that meet­ing that the mayor called her “the B-word five or six times” and threat­ened to “kick my back­side” dur­ing a closed ses­sion.

“I em­phat­i­cally deny those ac­cu­sa­tions,” Shor­nak said, calling them “child­ish.”

Tues­day’s meet­ing is the last for Shor­nak, Zev­go­lis and Lu­manBai­ley as coun­cil mem­bers. Af­ter Jan. 1, their seats will be held by Ben­nett, Johnny S. Partin Jr. and Deb­o­rah B. Ran­dolph, re­spec­tively.

Shor­nak said she hoped the coun­cilors-elect “do not have to go through this be­hav­ior” but she doubted it would stop.

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