A board member of the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association believes the board violated the Code of Virginia when it voted to cancel the results of its November board elections.
The vote occurred December 23, after a board meeting where executive director Pat Bell tendered her resignation.
Ron Kirkland, who was appointed in September to fill the balance of a two-year term on the Hotel Association board, said he showed up at the meeting expecting a lively discussion about Bell’s future with the Association. A group of board members had demanded her resignation a week earlier.
“Essentially, Pat Bell came and made her statement, that she was not going to stay on as executive director, regardless of any decision the board made,” said Kirkland, general manager of the Patrick Henry Inn and Patrick Henry Square.
“At that point, a group of board members made a motion that we not count the results of the (November board elections).”
Kirkland said some board members felt there were irregularities in the way votes were counted, and placed a motion in front of the board to re-do the vote. Kirkland voted against the motion, but it passed. One board member, Chris Canavos, submitted a proxy vote on behalf of a board member who couldn’t attend.
That’s where the problem arises, said Kirkland, the first board member to speak publicly about last Tuesday’s contentious meeting, which featured many board members leaving the Hotel Association offices via the back door to avoid reporters.
Kirkland sent an email to fellow board members, warning about a statute in the Code of Virginia, which allows board members to vote by proxy only in very narrow circumstances.
“If memory serves me correctly V.P. (Chris) Canavos presented a proxy vote that he had accepted and may not have realized at the time that this was not allowed,” Kirkland wrote to fellow board members. “However, it is my fiduciary responsibility to advise fellow directors that in my opinion this action may have indeed violated the Code of Virginia and the board should take immediate steps to correct this violation.”
Canavos is part of a group of board members who had wanted Bell’s ouster from the Hotel Association. They have never publicly explained the reasons for asking for her dismissal, and haven’t answered questions subsequent to her departure.
Board members gathered Monday for the first time since the meeting where Bell resigned. This time, it was to meet with the Hotel Association’s CPA, to make some end-of-year accounting decisions. The meeting, like most for the Association, was private.
Outside the meeting afterwards, Hotel Association president Ratnam Patel again refused comment, saying he wants to speak about the future of the Hotel Association, but is waiting for the appropriate time.
Kirkland wasn’t so reserved.
“I think mistakes have been made. Right now, as a board, we need to act as one to try to regain confidence in the community,” he said.
Kirkland said what’s disappointing to him is that everyone on the board, and in the community, shares the same goal of attracting people to visit Williamsburg to help the economy.
“The publicity we’ve received recently, I would characterize as being exactly what we don’t need. It couldn’t really be worse.”