HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County Board of Supervisors went into a closed-door meeting last week to get legal advice on removing board appointees.
When board members returned for the public meeting, Board Chairwoman Angela Kelly-Wiecek asked county attorney Dennis Walter to share a presentation on the removal process during the board’s Sept. 14 meeting.
“And the content of that presentation will discuss specifically the relevant sections of the Code of Virginia that will include the removal of public officers from office, specifically appointed school board members,” Kelly-Wiecek said during the Aug. 24 meeting.
Moments later, Kelly-Wiecek revealed a bit of what led to the decision.
“For those of you who may be here, it is my sad duty to inform you that this is relative to a longtime appointee,” she said.
Kelly-Wiecek declined to share additional details with 8News, including whether the board is considering the removal of an appointee, if there is an active effort to remove a school board member, if a vote is planned after the Sept. 14 presentation or if the longtime school board member was informed of the discussion.
In a statement, Kelly-Wiecek said she ordered the county attorney to prepare the presentation following “ongoing questions” about removing board appointees. Her statement does not mention the school board or any of its members.
“The Hanover Board of Supervisors places a premium on transparency and providing our constituents with accurate information. In response to ongoing questions and inquiries about the removal of public officials appointed by the Board of Supervisors, I have directed the County Attorney to prepare a presentation on Article 7 of Chapter 2, Title 24.2 Removal of Public Officers from Office,” the statement read. “This presentation will cover the relevant code sections, possible actions and adjudicating bodies, board of supervisors’ obligations and limitations, and examples of previous removals as well as defining legal terms and burdens of proof.”
According to Virginia code, “an appointed officer shall be removed from office only by the person or authority who appointed him” with a few exceptions. Hanover’s board of supervisors appoints members to several boards, commissions and committees in the county, including the school board.
“We believe that this information will guide the board and any subsequent actions, and more importantly will be of benefit to our residents, their understanding and will no doubt help them discern their next steps as well,” Kelly-Wiecek’s statement continued.
Hanover County School Board Chairman John Axselle III did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Unlike most school boards in Virginia, Hanover’s is made up of members not elected by voters but appointed by the county’s board of supervisors. The Virginia NAACP, the county’s local chapter and other advocacy groups have pushed for changes within the process and the school board.
According to a list provided by Hanover schools spokesperson Chris Whitley, here’s when each school board member was first appointed:
- John F. Axselle III, Beaverdam District: Appointed in 1995
- Robert J. (Bob) May, South Anna District: Appointed in 2021
- Ola J. Hawkins, Ashland District: Appointed in 2016
- Robert L. Hundley, Jr., Chickahominy District: Appointed in 2004
- Steven Ikenberry, Cold Harbor District: Appointed in 2021
- John E. Redd, Jr., Mechanicsville District: Appointed in 1981 (served one term); appointed in 2022
- George E. Sutton, Henry District: Appointed in 2019
Hanover’s school board is expected to vote Tuesday on its proposed bathroom and locker room policy for transgender students. After introducing the policy, the board held a separate public hearing on the proposal where parents and county residents spoke in support and opposition to the plan.
The proposed policy would require transgender students, with their parents or guardians, to submit a formal request to use school bathrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities that align with their gender identities and give the board authority to approve or deny them.
State lawmakers passed a law in 2020 requiring all school districts to adopt guidelines crafted by the Virginia Department of Education regarding transgender and nonbinary students by the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The Hanover County School Board adopted some requirements last November but opted against implementing new rules allowing transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identities. That decision led the Virginia ACLU to file a lawsuit against the board on behalf of five parents of transgender students.
Critics of the new proposed policy say it’s unnecessary, based on false assumptions and causes more harm to transgender and nonbinary youth. A University of Richmond law professor told 8News that while the board’s response to individual cases could lead to legal challenges, the language in the proposed policy appears to be legal.
Axselle said the policy was an effort between the board, its attorney and counsel from Alliance Defending Freedom. Hanover’s school board approved a plan in March to have ADF, which some have classified as an “anti-LGBTQ hate group,” review the district’s policy regarding the treatment of LGBTQ students after Axselle reached out to the organization.