For the second time, Manassas City Council member Mark D. Wolfe on Monday voted to allocate $23,000 in city money to the Manassas Ballet Theatre, where he is the unpaid executive director.
The council, which initially voted in June to provide the funding, revisited the issue after concerns that Wolfe (R) did not disclose his connections with the ballet before the earlier vote. Wolfe’s wife, Amy, is the ballet’s artistic director and is paid $50,000 a year.
The money for the ballet was among a total of $142,500 the council approved for arts and human-services groups. Monday’s 4 to 2 vote was the same as the first vote, with Marc Aveni (R) and Ian Lovejoy (R) voting against the allocations.
Before the vote, Wolfe apologized and said it had not initially crossed his mind to mention his role with the ballet because grant recommendations are handed up from a committee of city staff, making the process “apolitical.”
He said his executive director position — for which he is well-known locally — does not preclude him from voting. “I feel fully confident in my ability to render judgment on this matter,” Wolfe said.
At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Harry “Hal” Parrish II (R) read a statement about conflict of interest laws that suggested Wolfe was not barred from voting on the issue.
Parrish declined to release a full memo from city attorneys on the issue, saying it was confidential.
Mark Flynn, general counsel for the Virginia Municipal League, a nonpartisan association that advocates for Virginia localities, said it appeared that Wolfe ultimately complied with the state’s Conflict of Interest Act. Because Wolfe was voting on an item that affected several organizations — not just his own — the law requires only proper disclosure, Flynn said.
The law allows for public officials who are “involved in things,” Flynn said.
But some on the council and in the community remain unsatisfied.
Aveni said that Wolfe should not vote on items that involve funding for the ballet. Wolfe has abstained from the arts funding vote in the past, according to minutes of past votes. This year, had he abstained, the allocation would not have passed because council rules require four votes to spend city dollars, Aveni said.
“The honorable thing to do is Mr. Wolfe recuse himself,” Aveni said.
Some in the city plan to continue raising the issue. Five people organized by the Manassas Tea Party held a small protest outside council chambers before the vote and held up signs. One read, “Arts yes, special perks, no.”
“In my life, I don’t get special deals for myself,” said Linda Laudierio, who owns property in the city.