In the latest twist of the saga of Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy’s controversial and racially charged statements on Twitter unearthed by Jason Kessler, a right-wing activist, Bellamy’s attorney has filed a response to the petition calling for his removal from office.
In a press conference February 16, Kessler and his supporters presented their petition with 527 signatures calling for Bellamy’s removal from City Council. The petition cited Bellamy’s old tweets as evidence of abuse of office. Bellamy’s controversial tweets were published before his election to City Council, but after assuming office Bellamy changed his Twitter handle to reflect his status as vice mayor.
If the signatures are verified by Charlottesville’s registrar of voters and the number of signatures are approved by a judge, then a special prosecutor could make a case before a judge for Bellamy’s removal from office. According to Pam Starsia, Wes Bellamy’s attorney, Michael Doucette, Lynchburg commonwealth’s attorney, was appointed on Saturday as special prosecutor, a position Doucette also served in a 2013 unsuccessful attempt to remove former Albemarle supe Chris Dumler from office after he was convicted of sexual battery.
Starsia filed a motion February 21 stating Kessler’s petition did not allege grounds for removing Bellamy from office under Virginia Code, nor did it cite facts in support of allegations of misuse of office.
The motion also says that as a matter of law the petition has not been signed by the required number of voters.
Kessler’s petition was signed by 527 people. Virginia law says,“The petition must be signed by a number of registered voters who reside within the jurisdiction of the officer equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office that the officer holds.”
According to an abstract of votes from the city registrar’s office, a total of 15,798 votes were cast for city council candidates in the 2015 election in which Bellamy was elected. Because Charlottesville’s seats on council are at-large, voters could cast up to three votes for each of the three seats that were up for election.
Rick Sincere, an economist, former chair of the Virginia Libertarian Party and former member of the Charlottesville Electoral Board from 2004 to 2016, believes Bellamy’s demurrer is likely to succeed.
“The law says the signatures on the petition should equal or exceed 10 percent of the votes cast for that office in the previous election,” Sincere says. “If there were three candidates for three seats, and each candidate received 1,000 votes, that means 1,000 people voted but they cast 3,000 votes. The percentage should be based on 3,000 votes cast ‘for the office,’ not on the number of votes received per candidate.”
Sincere’s interpretation of the law suggests that Kessler may need 1,579 signatures rather than the 527 that he has collected.
Bellamy has also requested that in addition to dismissing petition, the court should award him “reasonable attorney fees and costs expended.”
A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, February 23, at 11am.