The first time Robert Jeffrey Jr. ran for the Roanoke City Council, he expressed hope that he could be a role model. He told this newspaper, “I can exemplify the work of what black men should be doing.”
That was four years ago. If only Jeffrey had taken his own words to heart.
The conclusion of Jeffrey’s criminal cases Aug. 22 spoke for itself. Roanoke Circuit Judge David Carson sentenced the 53-year-old former councilman to two and a half years of imprisonment for bilking $15,000 from the city he was elected to serve and $200,000 from the Northwest Neighborhood Environmental Organization, the community development nonprofit for which he worked as an independent contractor.
Wise reflection would suggest that this is the time to get one’s affairs in order and prepare to start over.
A bit of pop culture from a genuine role model offers relevant commentary. Acclaimed auteur Jordan Peele’s hit sci-fi horror flick “Nope” opens with a Bible quote from the Book of Nahum. “And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a spectacle.”
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After Roanoke grand juries indicted Jeffrey on four felony counts last year, Jeffrey made himself the spectacle and caused considerable embarrassment for Roanoke and his fellow council members in the process.
In October 2021, his colleagues quite reasonably asked him to take a leave of absence until his legal troubles were resolved. Jeffrey refused. “I am innocent of these charges. My intent is to stay in office,” he stated during the Oct. 18 council meeting. “I will be vindicated from these charges.”
At the end of Jeffrey’s first trial in March, it took the jury 25 minutes to convict him of two felony charges of obtaining money from the city by false pretense. His second trial ended two days later when he pleaded no contest to one charge of embezzling from NNEO. The plea deal, legally the same as a guilty plea, bars the possibility of appealing that embezzlement conviction, and so he forfeited his council seat.
And yet Jeffrey, as brazen and reckless as ever, has opened a new, ridiculous chapter, filing a petition for declaratory judgment demanding that he be reinstated on city council — which, if successful, would somehow have to be accomplished as he serves his prison sentence.
His attorney, Melvin Hill, says that the action’s specific objective is to challenge the March 22 decision by Circuit Judge Onzlee Ware that removed Jeffrey from the council. “It is our view that proper procedures were not followed,” Hill told The Roanoke Times, asserting that legally Jeffrey could not have been removed until his sentence was levied.
Even if this proves correct — so what? Is the goal to drag the Roanoke City Council through even more muck for the sake of Jeffrey’s ego?
Should Jeffrey prove victorious in the hearing upcoming Sept. 20, his reward for his accomplishment will be the spectacle that results as the city removes him from the council a second time, deploying further crossed t’s and dotted i’s.
The action wastes city money, city resources, and the hours of City Attorney Tim Spencer, all of which would be better employed toward matters that address important problems.
The legal filing also wastes Jeffrey’s own money, which certainly would be better spent paying back the funds he stole. In fact, once Jeffrey has served his time, paying back the organizations he’s convicted of defrauding will be a requirement of his release, with the possibility of additional incarceration if he doesn’t follow through.
Jeffrey should drop this nonsense, not least before it backfires on him in some even worse way.
Another genuine role model, Mayor Sherman Lea, again offered some sound advice for the man whose candidacy he once endorsed. “I’m disappointed about all of this that’s happened and I’m sad,” he told Roanoke Times reporter Jeff Sturgeon. “And I wish the best for Robert. I would hope that he would do his time and come back out and rebuild his life.”
We hope that, at last, Jeffrey listens.