When approving the minutes from last month’s regular Town Council meeting, Shep Moss stated it was his belief that in recent months the Council meetings have not been “fair, open, and transparent”.
“In my opinion, we’ve had citizens come forward with questions and concerns that were not answered and in some cases were even looked down upon for questioning the decisions of Council or decisions made by staff. We have heard unfounded and false allegations towards our volunteer fire department about taking pictures of the burning documents. I want to let our fire department and our EMS and police departments know that I fully support these vital, life saving, award winning departments that are such an asset to our community. I want the police department to know that I feel safe and sleep better at night knowing that they are protecting my home and my property.”
Joseph Taylor interrupted Moss stating to Mayor Marion that he welcomed Moss’ comments but did not feel that it applied to the approval of the minutes. Marion made no objection to Moss proceeding with his statement.
Moss continued, “In my opinion we have heard conflicting statements, misinformation concerning the documents, and my actions surrounding them. The local government and Town Council meetings are not, in my opinion, the arena in which to make false allegations, project false narratives, or to portray citizens, organizations, or fellow Council members as criminals or thieves, especially based on contrasting public statements from month to month. Our local government should not be on witch-hunts or using our power to carry our personal vendettas against Council members, employees, organizations, or citizens. The makeup of Council has changed since the last meeting and will continue to change with the upcoming elections in November. Now is the time for our community, our Council, and our Town Staff to come together to work towards solving some very apparent issues that we are dealing with.”
“We can no longer continue to choose not to address problems but rather do our civic duty and fulfill our obligations as elected officials to evaluate, process, and work together to solve issues as they arise.”
Moss was referring to last month’s Council meeting at which former Council member Ben Taylor called for an investigation into Moss’ actions, stating that he trespassed on Town property and removed Town documents from the burn site near the wastewater treatment plant; documents that the Town attorney called “trash” at the June Council meeting.
The disposal process was called into question when photos of Town documents being burned began circulating. Concerns were raised about why the documents were being burned instead shredded, why the proper destruction of public documents procedures were not being followed, and whether it was appropriate to destroy them while the Town is involved in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit with the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Library of Virginia has a set list of procedures to follow when destroying public records and in a July 6 meeting with the South Hill Enterprise, Director of Finance Sheila Cutrell explained that the Town used the burning method to destroy outdated records on May 4 and May 19, which was done in conjunction with a retention schedule provided by the Library of Virginia.
At the regular June Council meeting, Callis stated that the site had been approved for burning by the Virginia Department of Forestry; a statement that Moss disagreed with at the time.
“I don’t think that the Department of Forestry is qualified to tell us if that area is suitable for burning public record. I would think they would deal with brush and debris, not public records,” said Moss in June.
On June 16, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) made an unannounced visit to the burn site and decided to shut the site down. At the July Council meeting, Callis stated, “We do not agree with the DEQ position for a variety of reasons but we’ve learned over the years in dealing with this agency on a lot of different things including waste water treatment, industrial sewer users, landfill matters.” He went on to contribute the decision to shut down the burn site to a change in personnel at the agency saying that “interpretations of the guidelines also change and they become stricter and impose additional and more costly requirements on the town”.
In June, Moss questioned whether or not Callis could confirm that there was personal information within the boxes that were destroyed, to which Callis responded, “I can’t confirm that there were no social security numbers in those records but I can tell you that our personnel, our confidential records, and our payroll records were not part of that destruction,” said Callis.
At the July Council meeting Moss presented the Town Attorney with documents that were not fully destroyed from the burn site containing financial information. This action is what led to Ben Taylor calling for a criminal investigation into Moss.
The RM-3 form, filed on May 19, 2022 stated that the burned records consisted of accounts payable information and cash and bank reports dating from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018 and accounts receivable reports dating from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018.
According to Callis, the burning was “handled” by Director of Municipal Services C.J. Dean. Cutrell added that Leslie Kubasek, the Designated Records Officer through the Library of Virginia, was present for the May 19 burning. All records destruction was affirmed on the May 17 RM-3 form by Kubasek and approved by Cutrell.
In June, Moss questioned why records were burned before the RM-3 formed was filed. “These forms were filed on May 19 after the documents were destroyed, not before per the instructions.” He continued, “These records were filed all at one time and it is my belief and my opinion that you did this after I brought it to your attention to cover up because our records officer was designated in April of 2022. I do not know who it was before then.”
In the same meeting, Ben Taylor asked the Town Attorney if any laws had been broken in the burning process. He responded, “Councilman Taylor all I know is that we’ve gone through the Virginia Code and the Library of Virginia’s process. We’ve gone through to make sure that these records are controlled by Town employees at all times. They go from town property to town property. We’re speculating whether records were left unattended. I don’t know and so without really knowing whether or not someone was leaving records unattended for a certain amount of time we really don't know. We’re speculating but as far as the process that we’ve got in place, it is consistent with the Virginia code, it’s consistent with the Library of Virginia’s regulations and policies.”
According to a public plat map, the property that the burn site sits on belongs to Mecklenburg County, not the Town of South Hill. The Enterprise attempted to contact County Administrator Wayne Carter to confirm this but received no reply.
Taylor asked Moss in the same June meeting where he got the photos from and went on to accuse the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department of taking them. “[Director of Municipal Services] C.J. Dean supervised the burning of these documents. The fire department was notified that we were burning when the fire looked like it was spreading. They came with the brush truck, they sprayed, and they took pictures. So how did you get fire department pictures?” Taylor asked Moss.
Taylor went on to call the situation an “inside job” stating that Moss was serving a personal vendetta against Callis and using this situation to make Callis and the Town look bad.
On June 6, Cutrell and Callis told the Enterprise that C.J. Dean was present for one burning date and that Leslie Kubasek was present for the other; a statement that was contradicted by Taylor and Callis, who both stated in public meetings that Dean supervised both burnings. Neither Dean nor Kubasek were pictured in the photos of the public records burning.
In August, Taylor stated that Moss had “admitted to going onto posted property, no trespassing property, and taking documents that do not belong to him.”
It was later pointed out that there was no sign on the fence at the burn site property indicating no trespassing until after the questions were raised about the site.
After receiving only one vote of support for the investigation against Moss, Taylor announced his resignation stating that he could not be a part of a Council that condoned this kind of behavior.
He officially resigned from his South Hill Town Council Ward 2 seat on August 9. Randy Crocker was contacted and has agreed to serve out Taylor’s term ending December 31. General Elections for this position will be held November 8 for a term beginning January 1, 2023.