Morrow removed from chairmanship of Mathews board

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Oct 09, 2019 - 03:40 PM

Photo: Supervisor Mike Rowe, left, and Hudgins resident Mike Walls have an intense exchange after two special called meetings on Monday of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors, during which Rowe and two other supervisors, Amy Dubois and Edwina Casey, voted to oust supervisor G.C. Morrow from his role as chairman of the board. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Supervisor Mike Rowe, left, and Hudgins resident Mike Walls have an intense exchange after two special called meetings on Monday of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors, during which Rowe and two other supervisors, Amy Dubois and Edwina Casey, voted to oust supervisor G.C. Morrow from his role as chairman of the board. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Photo: Supervisor G.C. Morrow, standing, gives up his seat as chair of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors after a 3-2 vote on Monday to replace him with Supervisor Edwina Casey, seated fourth from left. Also shown, from left, are supervisors Mike Rowe, Charles Ingram, and Amy Dubois, who was made vice chairman; County Administrator Mindy Conner, and County Attorney Andrea Erard. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Supervisor G.C. Morrow, standing, gives up his seat as chair of the Mathews County Board of Supervisors after a 3-2 vote on Monday to replace him with Supervisor Edwina Casey, seated fourth from left. Also shown, from left, are supervisors Mike Rowe, Charles Ingram, and Amy Dubois, who was made vice chairman; County Administrator Mindy Conner, and County Attorney Andrea Erard. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Three Mathews County supervisors on Monday night voted to remove G.C. Morrow from his position as board chair and replace him with supervisor Edwina Casey, appointing Amy Dubois as vice chair. The action took place during the second of two special called meetings, held in the historic courthouse.

Supervisor Mike Rowe made the motion to unseat Morrow, charging that, after the board had agreed to stay out of an investigation (into a charge that the building official had falsified an official document regarding a FEMA home elevation project), Morrow had met with the project contractor, JB Property Development, and the homeowners making the accusation and had refused to tell other board members what went on at that meeting.

“Through your behavior, you implicated yourself as a potential co-conspirator in the investigation,” said Rowe.

Reading from a prepared statement, Rowe said further that Morrow, serving as chair for 10 months, had been “counseled, but has been uncooperative.”

“You are combative with staff, and you have eroded the public trust and credibility,” said Rowe.

In seconding the motion, Dubois said that the board was elected to maintain integrity and to govern “calmly and deliberately.” She charged that Morrow had “repeatedly ignored the board’s will, misrepresented the board and, at times, acted completely contrary to board decisions and specific direction.” She said that this “pattern of bad behavior” needed to be addressed “to reduce the risk for the county and restore the trust of our citizens.”

Dubois gave the following examples of behavior she considered unacceptable: “unauthorized representation of the board to the state and media, disclosure of closed meeting content outside the closed meeting, interference and undue pressure on employees of the county, and calling for emergency meetings that were not emergencies.”

Further examples that Dubois gave were: “blocking the progress of board-assigned committees, refusing to fulfill the coordination role of chairman related to board legal representation, and holding back vital information from the board prior to regular board meetings.”

Dubois also accused Morrow of “making reactive, impulsive decisions that unnecessarily disrupt governance and management of the county, wasting precious time and resources” and “repeatedly disrupting the spirit of harmony and cooperation that the board strives to maintain.” She said he “often conducts himself in a rude and discourteous manner when addressing some individuals presenting to the board.”

Morrow apparently misunderstood the motion at first, thinking that board members were trying to depose him from the board, and he said his understanding was that he could not be removed except by court action. County Attorney Andrea Erard explained to him, however, that the motion was only to remove him as chairman. Board members, who voted him in as chair, could also vote him out of that position, she said, but he would “continue in full force” as a member of the board of supervisors.

“Well, if that’s what the board wants,” said Morrow. “A whole lot of statements y’all made weren’t exactly true, but we’re not going to debate that here tonight.”

Morrow then called for the vote. It was supported by Rowe, Dubois, and Casey, with Charles Ingram and Morrow casting dissenting votes.

First called special meeting

The surprise move came after a prior meeting called by Morrow at which he made clear that he intended to go into closed session to discuss the issues raised about the building official at the board’s September meeting. But when Morrow asked for a motion to go into closed session to hold that meeting, only Ingram supported his request by making the motion. When it failed for lack of a second, the meeting adjourned. It had lasted only 11 minutes.

During the meeting, Morrow asked that the record reflect that the meeting wasn’t properly described in the notice made by county administration. He said that he had requested to go into closed session for discussion with the county attorney, rather than just to have a meeting to discuss the Sept. 24 meeting.

After Ingram made the motion to go into closed session, Dubois asked if there was any additional information to provide, and Erard explained that she had talked with Jamie Wilks, the building official, and had obtained a sworn statement from him “indicating that he had never signed or seen those documents before.” Based on that, said Erard, she made a report with Virginia State Police to investigate the matter. She said during a telephone call on Tuesday that she made that request on Friday, Sept. 27.

Dubois said that the board had decided to wait until the investigation was completed before taking any action, but Morrow explained that he was not asking board members to do anything.

“I have information I feel is appropriate for the board members to be aware of,” he said. “Since everybody has attempted to scold me in the past for not delivering every message the moment I get it, I thought I’d try to do the right thing.”

Morrow said he could ask counsel about the matter outside of the board meeting, “but I felt we should try to act as a board instead of under these separate actions.”

“We decided that we would all stay out of the investigation until it was over,” said Rowe. “And it’s not over,” added Casey.

The document

The document in question, obtained from Mathews County, has a cover sheet dated 11-21-2018 and is titled “Record of Final Inspection.” It has the county seal and the Mathews County Building Department address on it. It is followed by an eight-page “Elevation Certificate” with “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” printed at the top and information related to the owners of the property, Michael W. Christian and Gina R. Christian of Port Haywood, including photos of their home.

One page with building elevation information is apparently signed and stamped by land surveyor James S. Leigh and dated 11-7-2018. Two pages of the document with sections requiring signatures are left blank.

A “Declaration of Nonconversion Agreement” follows, with notarized signatures of the homeowners’ names which Michael Christian said during the Sept. 24 meeting that neither he nor his wife had signed.

Finally, there are two pages designated “Attachment B” of the “Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program Elevation Compliance Record” that have the appearance of having been signed by Wilks.

The affidavit

Wilks’ affidavit, obtained from Mathews County, is an eight-point document dated and notarized Sept. 26, 2019 in which Wilks swears that he had never seen the document in question and had no part in generating it. He said in the affidavit that the building permit number and the zoning permit number included in the document are incorrect.

He said further that he has not completed Attachment B, a FEMA document that is the “official sign off by the county stating the project is complete and meets all requirements of the grant.”

“The project at 674 Morse Point Road is not complete and all the requirements of the HMPG grant have not been met at this time,” he said. “At no time has a final inspection for the property at 674 Morse Point Road been requested of me, nor performed by me.”

The co-owner of JB Property Development, David Jones, said after Monday’s meeting that he had not received any money for completion of the project. 

On Tuesday, County Administrator Mindy Conner said the county has not received money from FEMA for the project based on these documents.

Other action

Also during the meeting the board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution for a declaration of a local emergency to allow six property owners with homes along the Chesapeake Bay just north of Bavon Beach to install 800 linear feet of riprap revetment 5 feet tall by 13 feet wide against an eroded shoreline. The properties all sustained severe erosion as a result of Hurricane Dorian.

The emergency declaration is allowed pursuant to an executive order issued by Gov. Ralph Northam. It enables the property owners to protect their property without going through the formal permit process, although they will still have to undergo administrative review of the project. The declaration will remain in place until March 31, 2020.

This article has been edited to reflect that Mathews County has not received money from FEMA for the project under discussion based on the documents in question.