BY WILL SESSOMS
The last year has been a difficult time for me and my family. A newspaper article that ran on Nov. 8, 2014, alleged numerous instances of improper votes I made, questioning my integrity and honesty. A special investigation was launched as a result of this article, and I was immediately advised by my attorneys to withhold any public discussion of the matter. With the resolution that has taken place, I can now speak to the citizens I am so proud to serve.
First, I would like to thank you, the people, and the Virginia Beach City Council, for your patience during this investigation. The vast majority of folks who contacted me fell into two categories: those who thought it fair to let the process play out and gave me the benefit of the doubt, and those who knew me well enough to know I would never do anything deliberately improper in my service as Mayor of Virginia Beach. The only positive in this entire affair is the fair-mindedness and support I have received from our citizens during the past year.
It all began when I got a phone call from a Virginian-Pilot reporter shortly before a scheduled trip to the Philippines representing the city. The reporter did not indicate the magnitude of the allegations he intended to accuse me of, just that he only needed “thirty minutes” of my time. I agreed to meet with the reporter on Wednesday, Nov. 19, three days after I would be returning from the trip. For whatever reason, the story broke online the evening of Nov. 7, and ran in the newspaper that next morning … while I was on the other side of the world. I will never understand why I was not given the courtesy of an interview as scheduled and feel that the firestorm that ensued when the article ran may not have occurred if I had the opportunity to sit down with the reporter and explain each of the issues he intended to raise in his article.
After a year-long investigation, where volumes of records and e-mails were sent to the special prosecutor, reviewing the nearly one thousand separate votes I have taken as Mayor, I am acknowledging a mistake on a matter known as Madison Landing. This was a rezoning that was recommended by the City Planning Department and the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, and received a unanimous vote from the City Council. My vote was not necessary for this project to pass. When I reviewed the application prior to my vote, I saw that the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval and that the item was put on what’s known as the City’s Council’s consent agenda. Unfortunately, I stopped there. Because there were no issues or concerns being raised, I did not look further for a developer’s name. But even that wouldn’t have told me which bank this developer would be using. I did not go further and this led to the error which I admit. My abstention on this issue would not have made a difference in the vote’s outcome. Still, know that if I could do it over again, I would have recused myself from this vote or disclosed it.
The City Attorney has done his best to make sure this situation will not arise again for any council member. Future applications will list additional information to assist councilmembers in determining whether they should abstain from a vote. Total transparency is vital to deliver the government our citizens deserve
Looking back on the one statement that I made at the beginning of this investigation – that I never knowingly made any vote to financially benefit myself or my former employer – still stands true today, and it has been confirmed by the special prosecutor. I love this city and our citizens, and have spent every day as mayor trying to represent you to the best of my ability. I am truly sorry I let my guard down on this one vote.
I have found over the past year that when your character and all you believe and stand for are questioned, several things occur: You find out who your friends are. You discover that the good will that you’ve built up through decades of public service does matter for the overwhelming majority of the people you serve. You learn what it means to have a loving and supportive family. And you learn a lot about yourself. I am the first to admit I’m not perfect. It is important that you know that every ounce of my being is dedicated to making Virginia Beach the best it can be, every day of the year, with integrity and honor. I am humbled to be the mayor of the greatest city in the world, and will strive with renewed energy to do the best job I can for the greatest people in the world, the citizens of Virginia Beach.