Man seeks abolition of Va. town's government

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 7:11 PM

David Silek was booing, heartily, hands cupped to his mouth, lips curled, as if at the rowdiest of sports events. Afterward, his mother chastised him. This was a town council meeting, not a football game.

Silek was unapologetic: "Our relatives picked up arms against the government. Booing is nothing."

Silek, a highly caffeinated, fast-talking lawyer who once pulled over a police officer for running a red light, proposes to do much more than boo the government of Front Royal, Va., a town of 15,000 along the Shenandoah River. He's leading an effort to disband it.

It's a long shot that would involve a petition drive and then the courts. If it clears all the bureaucratic hurdles, which could take months, the issue would still have to go before voters, not all of whom want to do away with their local government and consolidate with surrounding Warren County.

But with his attempt to upend the town he says his ancestors helped found, Silek has tapped an anti-government anger that is playing out far beyond this 222-year-old town 60 miles west of Washington.

A member of the tea party, Silek is not. (He's a self-proclaimed "Jeffersonian libertarian" whose previous brush with celebrity came from his representation of the White House gate-crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi.) But the discontent Silek embodies - and the antics he's used to express it - stems from the same sense of frustration that fueled tea party supporters in this year's election campaigns.

"We the people are beginning to wake up again," he said. "We the people lost attention to what was going on in government. I think there has been a great awakening, not just in Front Royal but nationally."

Like the tea party, Silek expresses an anger driven by what he sees as heavy taxation and government spending at a time when many are struggling with unemployment. Front Royal residents pay taxes to the town as well as to the county. Eliminate the town, Silek argues, and a significant portion of the tax burden will go away.

Much of his anger stems from the recent firing of Front Royal's town manager, J. Michael Graham - a move Silek and others call unjustified, ill-advised and costly. The town plans to pay Graham almost $175,000 in severance.

But the dispute over the firing of the manager was only the latest in a series of feuds Silek, 38, has had with his home town.

Two years ago, Silek was fuming over the speed trap a police officer was routinely setting up on the outskirts of town. Silek viewed the trap as an added tax on citizens at a time when many were hurting financially.

So when he saw another officer blow through a red light one night, Silek took off in pursuit. He caught the officer at the next light, he said, and told her to pull over. He said he gave her a good talking to and called her sergeant.

"I'm not afraid to take on the town," Silek said.

His antics have made him something of a gadfly whose flair for the dramatic, his critics say, has damaged Front Royal's reputation.

"The town can never get on with its business because there's always someone stirring something up over nothing," said Chris Holloway, Front Royal's vice mayor.

"Yeah, it would be nice to just pay a county tax," he says. "But if you were to do away with the town, the county tax would go up to cover expenses that had been taken care of by the town."

Holloway drew Silek's ire after he purchased the lot next to Silek's mother's house and built two townhouses there. Finding the houses ugly, Silek launched a protest.

Up went a hand-painted sign that read, "Impeach Holloway." Then, in an attempt to drive away potential buyers of the new houses, Silek decorated his mother's lawn with some hideous furniture: an ugly mohair couch, a 1970s TV with rabbit ears, and a vinyl recliner he bought at the Salvation Army for $50.

"It was classic," he said.

The houses, Holloway said, were built to code and tastefully done, but nothing would satisfy Silek, who "was irate."

Then there was the lawsuit.

Silek alleges that town officals leaked documents wrongly suggesting that his client, a company called SolAVerde LLC, offered town officials a bribe to win a contract it had never bid on.

The town government has denied any improprieties.

Instead of quietly filing his suit, Silek last summer tipped off local reporters that town council members would be served the lawsuit at a public meeting - a publicity gambit similar to when police do "perp walks" when they're bringing in a suspect.

A reporter from the Warren County Report showed up with a video camera, recorded the event and posted it on YouTube. Then, a gift shop on Main Street started selling T-shirts with the slogan "You've been served!" on them.

Silek knows he can rub people the wrong way. He knows those he's targeted on the town council can't stand him - even if they won't say so publicly. He knows that pulling over police officers, putting out ugly lawn furniture and embarrassing council members is all over the top.

But he also knows that sometimes the court jester gets more attention than the king.

"You demonstrate absurdity with absurdity," he said. "So often our local officials seem to think they can operate in a vacuum, and they've gotten away with what they've done."

Silek says his aim is to let the public see what the town government is up to. Even those who disagree with him and find his behavior distasteful say that the timing for this sort of rebellion is right.

There is "real anger that is directed at the council and the incompetence of the local government," said Tina Hobson, a Front Royal resident who favors recalling the current council members but not dissolving the town. "He's taking advantage of that."

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