The proclamations — commemorating shooting victims, the anti-slavery holiday Juneteenth and LGBTQ Pride Month — were supposed to be an opportunity for the Leesburg Town Council to honor local community groups and express solidarity with them.
But one of the council’s seven members placed comments on the certificates questioning their purpose, using the line reserved for his signature.
Now the local NAACP and some town residents and officials are calling for his resignation.
Thomas S. Dunn II, a member of the council since 2008, said in an email to reporters Friday that his council colleagues were acting as “activists rather than law makers.”
“These calls for resignation are from the same people who seek to divide all of us against each other,” his statement said. “We cannot achieve true equality when we try to divide or allow ourselves to be divided into different groups.”
Dunn was late to the June 11 meeting where the council signed a proclamation that declared June LGBTQ Pride Month. He arranged for another council member, Joshua Thiel, who declined to sign the proclamation, to write: “Everyone is equal, identities don’t help,” on Dunn’s signature line.
Thiel earlier had joined another council member in attempting to change the name of the month in the proclamation to “Love Your Neighbor” month, but the effort failed.
The same night, another proclamation recognized Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. Leesburg’s NAACP plans to erect a historic marker on that day this year commemorating Orion Anderson, a teenage boy who was lynched in Leesburg in 1889. His descendants still live in town.
Instead of signing his name, Dunn — who had arrived at the meeting by then — wrote “This is a celebration, lynching is not.”
On a May 28 proclamation for the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense that called for a gun violence awareness day, Dunn wrote “People are violent, guns are not.”
“We are done with Thomas Dunn, just as we’re done with racism in Leesburg,” the Rev. Michelle C. Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP, said at a midday news conference Friday.
She called Dunn’s comments “insulting” and “inappropriate” and demanded both he and Thiel step down from the council, which governs a Northern Virginia town of 54,000 that is the Loudoun County seat.
Leesburg is 75.6 percent non-Latino white, 7.6 African American and 17 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.
Town Council member Ron Campbell, who is African American, joined the call for Dunn’s resignation over what he called the “defacing” of the proclamation, which he said was a “clear violation” of the local ethics ordinance.
“It’s time for him to take his personal agenda of disrespect and hate and step aside,” Campbell said.
Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, who is white, said in an interview that Dunn’s actions were unusual and unnecessary.
“Council members have the option, if they don’t want to participate in a proclamation to not sign it at all, or to remove their name,” Burk said. “I’m really horrified that someone would take such an uplifting event and make it political and nasty. It’s a real shame.”
Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez, who is Latino, also called for Dunn’s resignation on his Facebook page.
Dunn, who did not respond to requests for an interview, denied in his statement that he violated the city’s ethics policy.
He refused to resign his position and said he had already re-signed the proclamations with his own name. He also called for a council work session on how to handle proclamations.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of the Freedom of Slavery by Texas and should not be diminished by bringing in other issues, [which,] while important, are not to be celebrated but observed such as lynching,” the statement said.
It did not address the proclamations for Pride Month or the gun violence awareness day.
It is not the first time Dunn, a three-time mayoral candidate, has drawn criticism.
In 2015, during a discussion at a public meeting over whether to create a diversity commission in Leesburg, he said God, not government, was solely responsible for freeing slaves in the United States and correcting racial injustice.