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Lea, White-Boyd question fellow council member's words, spending

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Roanoke council members

Roanoke City Council members, from left, Stephanie Moon Reynolds, Vice Mayor Trish White-Boyd and Mayor Sherman Lea.

After Roanoke Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds objected to Mayor Sherman Lea’s receiving $2,500 a year as a personal vehicle-use stipend, Lea and Vice Mayor Trish White-Boyd have criticized Moon Reynolds for her spending on business meals, travel and training and development.

Moon spent more public funds on official duties in key discretionary categories this fiscal year than other council members and the mayor combined — $5,747.48 — a figure Lea called “concerning” in light of her publicly challenging him over a money request earlier this month.

White-Boyd said she thought it was questionable that Moon Reynolds “was talking about not burdening the taxpayer with the $2,500” while she herself spent twice that.

“You say one thing but you do something else,” White-Boyd said of Moon Reynolds.

When asked about the criticism of her, Moon Reynolds told The Roanoke Times she attended a number of conferences and events for networking and training – ordinary expenditures for a council member.

“I haven’t done anything that other council members have not done in the past,” said Moon Reynolds, who was city clerk for 13 years before winning a council seat.

One reason Moon Reynolds’s spending stands out this year is that other council members cut back such activities this year, in keeping with a pattern that coincided with the pandemic. At this point in this fiscal year, with six weeks left, total business meals, travel and training and development spending average out to $1,077 for each council member.

None of Moon Reynold’s training, travel and event attendance departs from policy, according to a preliminary review by Municipal Auditor Drew Harmon, whose office will audit council spending after June 30.

Said City Clerk Susie McCoy: “She [Moon Reynolds] didn’t do anything wrong.”

As an example, a Roanoke Times review of final, audited figures from the city for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 (pre-pandemic years) showed average spending per council member of $4,614 and $3,088, respectively. Roanoke’s mayor, who is the ceremonial head of the city, has more engagements, usually, based on the job. And Lea’s spending in 2017 and 2018 was $7,279 and $6,022.

The dispute began a few weeks ago.

The agenda issued ahead of a May 9 council meeting included a provision to annually supplement the pay of all six council members and the mayor by $2,500 as compensation to privately own or lease a vehicle used for city business. The proposal underwent revision by the time of the meeting and only $2,500 for Lea remained.

Moon Reynolds announced that she would vote against a draft annual pay plan because it included the $2,500 item “in fairness to citizens who are still struggling from” the pandemic and higher real estate and personal property taxes or stormwater runoff fees some people owe this year. She also maintains that insufficient public discussion occurred about the item before it was time to vote.

Lea and Moon Reynolds briefly bickered and she walked out of the meeting for about two minutes. A council majority approved the plan with the mayor’s supplement.

McCoy’s office, in response to an open records request from the Roanoke Times, released what each council member and the mayor spent this fiscal year on business meals, travel and training and development. The data showed Moon Reynolds as the top spender in those categories.

“It’s concerning the amount that that is, when she makes an issue of my spending and, I’m saying, when I look at her spending and where it was, that’s way much more than I spent,” said Lea, who so far spent $1,527, in a Roanoke Times interview. “That’s hypocritical.”

Lea also called out Moon Reynolds for objecting during the final series of votes on budgets drafted over many months. Had she brought it up earlier, “we could have worked that out,” he said.

Lea also noted that the councilwoman, a former city clerk who was elected to a council seat effective in January 2021, was making an issue of $2,500 item within a $325 million budget.

Moon Reynolds used the occasion of being asked to respond to criticism of her spending level to contrast herself and the mayor.

Moon Reynolds said she met Lea at Billy’s Roanoke, a downtown restaurant on April 22 at his request to discuss issues such as gun violence and the school system and paid for her meal.

“I’m being paid to do that through the $23,000 [annual compensation] that I receive. I don’t have to nickel and dime the city,” she said.

Moon Reynolds noted that city records reflect that the mayor billed $30.49 in connection with the outing to the city, records show.

“We’ll still go on working together,” said Moon Reynolds, who sits beside the mayor at meetings.

“You can work together,” Lea said when asked where he stands, “but it takes away the trust factor.”

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Jeff Sturgeon covers the city of Roanoke, including schools, banking and transportation. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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