Commonwealth attorney’s opinion prompts commissioner to resign

MOUNT JACKSON — Bonnie Good has resigned her seat as chairwoman of the town’s Planning Commission following an advisory opinion issued by  Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley that finds a new commission member does not have a conflict of interest in his role on the panel.

Wiseley wrote the opinion in response to a request made by Robert Whitehurst Jr. , who inquired whether or not he has a legal conflict of interest given his seat in government.  Whitehurst owns 136 acres of land zoned for industrial use to be used in Mount Jackson’s “megasite” along with another 576 acres zoned for agriculture use.

The town annexed the land at Whitehurst’s and his sister Eleanor Whitehurst’s request in 2015, before Whitehurst was tapped for his seat on the Planning Commission.

“To opine that Mr. Whitehurst is disqualified from service based on his ownership of real property alone – regardless of whether his property has and/or will be the subject of discussions – would contravene the specific language of the [Virginia] Code – and legislative intent – in requiring a majority of members to be property owners,” Wiseley stated in a letter with her response to Whitehurst’s question on Wednesday.

After learning of Wisely’s decision, Good noted at a Planning Commission meeting Wednesday evening that despite Wiseley’s opinion, the only reason the town is updating its comprehensive plan – the recent focus of the Planning Commission and focus group – is in light of the land the Whitehursts pushed the town to annex.

“I appreciate her [Wiseley’s] response, but it was an uninformed response,” Good said. “The only reason we are dealing with this comprehensive plan right now is because of Mr. Whitehurst.”

In response to Good’s words at the meeting, Whitehurst said despite how the situation looks, he is serving to improve the town and the lives of its citizens.

“I’m hoping I can help and I think my actions demonstrate that,” he said at the meeting. “…My actions will prove my words correct, and I can guarantee that.”

Beyond a legal conflict of interest, Good said government service carries ethical considerations and that naming Whitehurst to the panel has led the town, she said, to lose trust in its government.

“There’s a big difference between doing an illegal act and doing something that’s unethical,” she said. “Ethics is at the root of the problem that has been going on since Robert Whitehurst was a part of this commission.”

Good’s words against Whitehurst’s tenure on the panel have drawn the ire of various citizens and members of Town Council. At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor J.G. “Bucky” Miller and Councilman Donald Pifer spoke against her condemnation.

Likewise, in the past, local businessman Bill Holtzman has spoken against what he called a “singling out” of Whitehurst.

However, Good has said in the past she’s received several calls and messages from citizens concerned with Whitehurst’s position on the commission.

Whitehurst declined to offer comment after the meeting Wednesday and could not be reached for comment via phone Thursday.

Whitehurst was appointed to the commission in July.  The mayor broke a tied council vote to place Whitehurst on the panel. Councilmen Roger Rudy and Ken Hackenbracht and Councilwoman Whitney Miller voted against naming Whitehurst to the panel, citing issues with the appearance or existence of a conflict of interest, while Councilmen Dennis Andrick, Pifer and Rodney Shepherd voted in favor.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com