By Brandon Martin
In a majority vote, Martinsville City Council formally addressed a situation involving Jennifer Bowles, a council member; Assistant City Manager and City Attorney Eric Monday and Ray Reynolds, a local businessman.
During their July 14 council meeting, Jim Woods introduced a motion to endorse a cease-and-desist letter sent by Monday to Reynolds on behalf of Bowles.
“It is unconscionable to defame a person’s character, especially as a member of city council–a person who is a servant leader,” Woods said.
Vice Mayor Chad Martin, who seconded Woods’ motion, initially broached the issue that came to a head during a telephone call between Reynolds and Bowles on or about June 10.
Reynolds alleges that members of an online group, of which Bowles is a member, targeted him because he supports President Donald Trump. Reynolds also asserted the social media platform was used as a means to defame him by some of its members who allegedly branded him a racist.
Bowles has said that Reynolds did not mention anyone specifically threatening him, but that she told him he did the right thing by approaching the police (to report alleged threats).
“There’s nothing further that I can do. I can’t react to what people are saying. I can’t control that,” Bowles said Tuesday.
After the call, Reynolds said he received a cease and desist letter from Monday for alleged “defamatory and malicious attacks upon the reputation of council member” Bowles.
“They are an intentional and malicious effort to damage the reputation of Ms. Bowles and her role as Council member for the city,” the letter stated.
Reynolds has questioned whether it was appropriate for Monday to represent Bowles in what he said is a private matter.
“I’d like to thank our city attorney,” Martin said Tuesday. “Most people know via the paper and Facebook that our council lady was kind of harassed and she asked him to step in on her behalf. I really appreciate the relationship we have in our city attorney and that we can call on him” when needed.
Danny Turner said he disagreed with Monday’s involvement with the situation.
“I think this is completely off-bounds. It shouldn’t happen between a businessman and an individual,” Turner said. “The city attorney has absolutely no business getting involved in that and I don’t agree with it. It shouldn’t have happened, and we ought to be ashamed for giving an endorsement to it.” Woods defended his motion.
“Absolutely, if that were the case,” he said. “If the gentleman in question had said ‘Ms. Bowles,’ but when he brings in her title as a council member then it comes incumbent on the attorney of council to then say this is unacceptable.”
Turner said that Monday’s involvement is a conflict of interest.
“Council Member Bowles has a vote on his contract, not only as city attorney, but potentially city manager down the road, and that’s a conflict of interest,” Turner said. “This is a road that we shouldn’t be going down, and I’m just surprised that you guys would bring this up during a council meeting.”
Mayor Kathy Lawson said “when a person who serves on council is referred to as ‘Council Member,’ not as an individual, I do not see a conflict when council’s attorney prepares a document on behalf of the member of council. Not as a citizen but as a member of council.”
Bowles, who requested that Monday write the letter, concluded the public discussion with her own perspective and the reason why she approached the city attorney.
She said she didn’t want to divulge too much of the (telephone) conversation between her and Reynolds, but “the allegations against me are completely false. We know who everybody supports, and I support every citizen, no matter who you support, in my role as a council member. So in that phone call, when he called on me in my role as a council member, I did my job.”
Bowles then alleged that Reynolds “makes that threat, saying that if I don’t do that, he’s going to do ‘this, this and this’ about my role on council. Even then, all I did was have a conversation with the mayor and the city attorney. Then, he continued to push the envelope further with malicious attacks on social media.”
The motion passed in a 4 to 1 vote, with Turner as the only objection.
An attorney has requested additional details about the situation involving the city officials and Reynolds.”
Tim Anderson, of Anderson & Associates, PC, a Virginia Beach-based law firm, has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking for the city to release “any and all communication, authorization, or direction from the City Manager” and others authorizing the city attorney to write a letter related to address issues between” Reynolds and Bowles.
Anderson said Wednesday that he is still waiting for the city to respond to his FOIA request.
“Questions still remain about how the city attorney has the authority to get into this dispute,” he added.