Stafford County School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy this week publicly refuted suggestions that her partnership in a local real estate law firm has improperly influenced her decisions as an elected official.
And most School Board members backed her up, voting 5–1 Tuesday to reject a proposal for Healy to “pass the gavel” during discussions related to “development and its impact on schools.” Member Irene Egan cast the only yes vote, while member Holly Hazard abstained.
The School Board voted unanimously in January to name Healy the chairwoman.
“During my tenure on the School Board, I have never used my position for personal or partisan gain,” Healy, who was first elected in 1999, said in a prepared statement at the meeting. She added later: “My actions as a member of the School Board have been consistently proper, and I have not seen or heard any substantive credible example of an alleged improper action on my part.”
She and her husband, Clark Leming, have operated North Stafford’s Leming & Healy law firm for more than three decades. Leming, a land-use attorney, often represents housing developers and has a number of pending lawsuits against the Stafford Board of Supervisors. The supervisors determine how much county money schools receive.
Healy said her legal skills regarding contracts, deeds and other matters have benefited the School Board.
But Egan, citing concerns from constituents, wrote in a report that Healy should not preside over certain discussions in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That includes upcoming talks about redrawing elementary school attendance zones to address over- and under-crowded schools—a process Egan says stems from development in the county.
The School Board, including Healy, agreed this year to hire a consultant to come up with plans to redistrict elementary school students effective next summer.
Egan noted that Healy’s firm represents developers, or “the very folks who impact our school capacity,” in numerous lawsuits against the county. The failed proposal would not have prevented Healy from voting or taking part in discussions, but it would have required her to temporarily relinquish the role of chairwoman when certain topics came up.
School Board member Jamie Decatur, who sided with Egan, attended part of Tuesday’s meeting remotely, but was absent for the vote on Healy.
Leming, speaking during the meeting’s public comments period, said he, not Healy, filed the lawsuits against the county. He said none of those complaints have anything to do with schools, adding: “And if you had bothered to look at them, you would know that.”
“So get back to your jobs and leave me and my firm and Ms. Healy out of it,” Leming concluded.
Several other residents defended Healy, with Dana Brown saying the spat reminds her of the movie “Mean Girls.”
Egan and Decatur denied having personal ill will toward Healy. They said they were not accusing her of anything improper, but wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety under the Virginia School Boards Association Code of Conduct.
“A conflict of interest is very different than an appearance of a conflict of interest,” Decatur said.
During a contentious redistricting process three years ago, Egan said, some parents questioned whether Healy’s business creates a potential conflict. Recent comments on social media echo those concerns.
“This was me acting at the request of my constituents ... so that we don’t have another lawsuit, so that we don’t have any more people getting up here kind of pointing their finger at you,” Egan said.
She was referring to a lawsuit in 2015 over the School Board’s plan to relieve overcrowding at middle schools. That complaint is still under advisement, according to online court records.
School Board member Dewayne McOsker defended Healy against what he called a “culture of nastiness.”
“These Facebook attacks and these email attacks and these attacks in public have to stop,” he said.