I have been honored to represent you as your City Council representative at City Hall and in your neighborhood for more than 6 years. It has not always been easy but I have faithfully tried to serve your interests, and the City's broader interests, in every decision I have made on your behalf. I have never shied away from doing the hard work, asking the tough questions, and insisting that the City follow or adopt best practices at all levels - and occasionally, even asking the Administration to follow its own policies.
From helping to start a welding program for ex-offenders in order to make bike racks and gain important skills in a high-paying industry to ensuring that our vulnerable populations such as youth, seniors, housing insecure, and underemployed receive the care and attention they deserve, I have acted in a manner that demonstrates my core value to help others in need. This is particularly true for public education. Whether to "ban-the-box" on employment applications or to grant equal benefits to same-sex marriages, I am proud to have advanced many socially progressive causes in Richmond while maintaining a keen eye on fiscal prudence.
In recent months, however, I have been the target of several legal actions due to my recent relocation to accommodate my expanding family. I have always had to balance my governmental life with my personal life and the prospect of expensive legal actions against me, balanced with the fact that I am not seeking re-election, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to continue serving as your representative.
Therefore, effective November 30, 2019, I will resign and vacate my seat on City Council with, effectively, a full year remaining in my four year term. My arrival at this decision has been exceptionally difficult.
Before purchasing our new house, I consulted with City Attorney Allen Jackson last summer on the legality of acquiring a second home but maintaining my domicile on Floyd Ave. The now seemingly dubious advice I was given at that time was that my move to accommodate my family would not impact my ability to serve through the end of my term because I had already decided not to seek re-election. While residence is an objective determination, and many people have multiple residences, domicile is subjective and one's domiciliary intent can only be affiliated with one location. My domiciliary intent is and has always been associated with my home on Floyd Avenue in the 5th District and I have never abandoned that intent. My decision to acquire another residence was made in good faith, based on the legal advice I received in advance, with zero intent to flout the law. I have at all times been honest and forthright in my intentions. Sadly, the law is ambiguous and the advice given by the City Attorney is now being challenged in court.
After unsuccessful attempts to discredit my 5th District voting rights with appeals to the Electoral Board and Voter Registrar, I am now the subject of four lawsuits filed by two individuals - Chuck Richardson and Sa'ad El-Amin. The original lawsuits filed against me by former Councilman Richardson highlighted vague state code definitions of domicile and intent as well as the City Charter's silence on the matter of residency after one is elected to hold office. My domiciliary intent has always been associated with Floyd Avenue in the 5th District. That is my first home and it will be our last home. In order to complete my term, I would be forced to bear significant costs of litigation just to prove my own subjective domiciliary intent and, therefore, my continued right to hold the office to which I was properly and duly elected.
Over the past several months, I have approached Mr. Richardson on numerous occasions in order to suggest a compromise that would avoid costly litigation. Rather than working toward a productive resolution, Mr. Richardson instead continues to insist on grandstanding in public litigation. If the vagaries of state and municipal law regarding domiciliary intent are not addressed, elected officials could easily continue to make decisions on behalf of their constituents while renting houses in a particular district and living outside of that district, or even outside of the municipality that they represent. It is an occurrence that few seem willing to address, but I will engage our General Assembly delegation and urge them to change state code and our City Charter during the 2020 General Assembly session. Despite seeking this productive outcome, a Writ Quo Warranto action was
filed against me by Sa'ad El-Amin.
Mr. El-Amin's filing was of interest to the Commonwealth Attorney's office, in no small part due to continual lobbying efforts by Mr. El-Amin. The Commonwealth Attorney clearly has statutory authority to bring such an action and is the person best suited to make the legal claim that I have "usurped" the 5th District City Council seat.
The Commonwealth Attorney has declined to do so. The lawsuit filed by Mr. El-Amin appears to have been a reaction to the agreement I reached with the Commonwealth Attorney, which was somehow made known to Mr. El-Amin before I was able to publicly announce my resignation.
In any event, Mr. El-Amin's lawsuit is inflammatory because no one is challenging the validity of my election in 2016 and as no other individual has a superior (or any) claim of right to the office that I hold. Mr. El-Amin's claim that he is an "interested party" while being a 3rd District resident is an affront to the 26,000 residents of the 5th District who I was duly elected to serve and for whom I continue to execute my duties faithfully. If Mr. El-Amin had his way, the Commonwealth, and myself, would be forced to endure the costs and disruption of senseless litigation while distracting from real issues to be addressed by City Council - like the budget. When weighing the extent of the alleged harm if I remain in office, the practical benefit to Mr. El-Amin if I am ousted, and the injury and inconvenience to the public that would result - I believe a court will find no merit in Mr. El-Amin's filing. I therefore concur with Mr. Herring's determination that avoiding disruptive litigation and allowing for an orderly transition is in the best interest of the City.
Unless and until Mr. El-Amin is able to convince a circuit court judge that he has a right or claim to the office I hold, and is thus an "interested person", I will not justify his self-interested, defamatory actions with a further response. This is simply a vendetta being pursued by a self-interested former City Councilman who resigned when sentenced to serve time in federal prison in 2003 after fraudulently misrepresenting a legal client and defrauding the government.
Although the Commonwealth Attorney's office reached an agreement with me in order to avoid litigation and disruption to City Council business, they nevertheless made it clear that they are not interested in pursuing a productive solution to this issue in the future. While they have declined to file a Writ Quo Warranto, based on the fact that I am resigning effective November 30, 2019, there seems to be no desire to seek clarification of the state code, to amend the City Charter, or to ask for a formal legal opinion from the Attorney General, all of which could help resolve similar issues in the future. Instead, challenges like this one will continue to occur in Richmond, and elsewhere, in the coming years.
Though the only proof brought forth to date are biased public statements about my domiciliary intent, and although there is no judicial finding (under a separate statute) that indicates I "vacated" the 5th District City Council seat, the Commonwealth Attorney's office has made it clear they were intending to pursue civil legal action if I remain in office beyond the end of 2019. Make no mistake, the Commonwealth Attorney's office has a very difficult case to make in order to support the legal claim that the 5th District City Council seat has been "usurped" by the very same individual - in fact, the only individual - who was duly elected to that seat.
However, all of these arguments will require litigation and, at the end of the day, the matter may be submitted to a judge or jury for a factual determination and a ruling on the merits at the conclusion of a process that could drag on for a year or longer. I don't want to put constituents, the City, or, for that matter, my family through such unnecessary drama, theatrics, or expense. I have always maintained a fiscally responsible position as it comes to expending taxpayer resources. The shear cost of litigation against Chuck Richardson, Sa'ad El-Amin, and Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring, is not the most prudent course to follow for my family or for the City.
According to the City's Voter Registrar, my decision will now set in motion a series of deadlines that will require City Council to call for a special election. In an effort to mitigate the budgetary impact and avoid the appointment of a non-elected representative of the 5th District, I strongly urge City Council to petition the Richmond Circuit Court to schedule the special election for my seat so that it coincides with the statewide general election on November 5, 2019. Not only will this avoid the excessive costs and redundancies associated with holding an additional election, it will allow for interested candidates to file paperwork prior to the deadlines determined by the Registrar and state code and announced in the coming months. It will also ensure an orderly transition.
I am deeply saddened by the prospect of not serving out the remainder of my term. While this is not the outcome that I anticipated upon the early legal advice I received - and given the substantial, ongoing support I continue to receive from 5th District constituents - it slights in comparison to a concocted crisis that portrays more dysfunction in Richmond, as well as the cost of lengthy and expensive litigation, even though it involves an uncertain legal principle that hinges on subjective intentions. Unfortunately, my desire to resolve ambiguity in the law and provide clarity for future elected officials was not met with the same determination by those who would rather see the 5th District deprived of its duly elected representative.
For the remainder of my time in office, I will, as always, focus on the budget process, efficient and effective service delivery, legislative priorities for the City to follow best practices, and my continued service to all of you to help make our neighborhoods and our City better.
I thank each and every one of you for your support, suggestions, and input while serving on Council. I appreciate your friendship and the familial feeling that has bonded the 5th District. I look forward to continuing our relationships in the future and will always look fondly on the efforts we made together to make our City such a wonderful place to live.
Parker C. Agelasto