Petition seeks to recall Vines from School Board

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had incorrectly identified Brandon Randleman as being a member of the Isle of Wight County NAACP chapter. It has also been updated to clarify the petition’s assertions regarding Michael Vines’ financial disclosure form.

More than 200 Isle of Wight residents have filed a petition in the county’s Circuit Court seeking to recall School Board member Michael Vines.

Vines’ seat was already to go before a special election this November. He’d been appointed last fall as Julia Perkins’ interim replacement after the retired teacher resigned in the middle of her four-year term.

The petition seeks Vines’ “immediate suspension” from his seat, accusing him of having made “wildly inappropriate, defamatory, and discriminatory” remarks at recent meetings. According to court officials, it was filed at 4:55 p.m. March 15.

Read the petition here.

Vines, speaking to the Smithfield Times the evening of March 16, said he hadn’t been served with it yet, and declined to comment on the matter.

Specifically, the petition cites an exchange of words between Vines and fellow board member John Collick at the board’s Jan. 13 meeting.

At that meeting, the board had been scheduled to vote on a personnel report naming Susan Goetz, the school system’s executive director of leadership, as its choice for promotion to the newly created deputy superintendent position. Collick had proposed delaying the vote after Herb De Groft, a former board member, made a series of allegations against Goetz during the meeting’s public comment period.

Collick had asked that De Groft be given “the opportunity to bring forth any evidence” substantiating his claims, but Vines opposed the delay and accused Collick of “validating” De Groft’s unproven claims for having suggested the idea.

“I’m going to put it in a language you can understand … you being a Christian man. You are doing the exact same thing they did to Jesus, the exact same thing,” Vines said to Collick.

At a Jan. 26 meeting, when a crowd with handmade signs interrupted the meeting to heckle board members over the local mask mandate still in place for Isle of Wight County Schools at the time, Vines again invoked scripture.

“There is a scripture in the Bible that says, ‘Know those who labor among you,’” Vines quoted. “Oftentimes you speak and say things that you are not even aware of. I grew up a product of this county. A lot of you can’t say that. A lot of you were transplanted in this county.”

“The citizens Mr. Vines disparaged … interpreted the comment to mean there are two classes of citizenship in Isle of Wight: one that originated in the county and the other that moved to the county,” the petition states.

Then, on Feb. 8, Vines and Collick jointly hosted a town hall meeting at Windsor Elementary School. There, Brandon Randleman was allowed to speak, despite his having relocated outside of the county, while Laura Fletcher — who lives on the outskirts of the town of Smithfield — was escorted from the lectern by Sheriff’s Office deputies at Vines’ request after she revealed she did not live in Vines’ or Collick’s voting districts.

Randleman, a relative of Vines, had been specifically invited by Vines to attend.

Fletcher, who according to the petition had intended to “provide an opposing viewpoint” to Randleman’s criticism of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s tip line to report schools teaching “divisive” concepts, had previously been escorted from the Jan. 26 School Board meeting by law enforcement after continuing to shout at board members over masks.

She again refused to return to her seat and again raised her voice to Vines and Collick.

“We will not hear you … You are a problem in every School Board meeting,” Vines told Fletcher.

The petition further accuses Vines of “malfeasance” for having left his employment status and salary blank on the required State and Local Statement of Economic Interests form School Board members must file, but having stated at the Feb. 8 meeting that he was “an IT manager” who makes “over $100,000 a year.” Vines made the statement during a discussion of his push since January for an increase to the $5,000 stipend Isle of Wight School Board members are currently paid.

Read Vines’ Statement of Economic Interests here.

According to the form, which was attached as an exhibit to the petition, Vines filled out some portions — among them a section on liabilities. But he “failed to sign it, date it, and left most of the document blank,” the petition states, “including the portion for listing salaries and wages in excess of $5,000.”

“Mr. Vines’ pattern of invoking religious references as part of his public comments … could be construed as discriminatory and potentially violates the Establishment Clause of the (U.S. Constitution’s) First Amendment,” the petition states. “Mr. Vines exhibits a pattern of using reckless language to attack those he disagrees with.”

Per state law, voters can petition to remove an elected official, or any official appointed to fill an elected office, for “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence” or “upon conviction of a misdemeanor.”

To move the petition forward, its organizers needed to obtain signatures of registered voters in Vines’ voting district equal to at least 10% of the number of ballots cast in the last election. When Perkins last ran for Vines’ seat in 2019, there were 1,716 votes cast, meaning 172 signatures were needed. The filed petition bears 214 signatures.

In Virginia, recall petitions don’t automatically result in a new election, but rather go to a judge, who rules on the merits of their claims.