By Linda Cicoira — From public restrooms that are closed because no one wants to clean them to police harassment that appeared to be condoned by the mayor and police chief, the little town of Parksley took a beating at the town council meeting Monday night.
One official called for a police officer to be fired. And now there is a movement among citizens to have the mayor resign.
Shop owners who gathered at the session were appalled and complained about the town’s handling of business and the only woman on the six-member council, Julie Nash, sat in the audience to speak up during public participation so she could get a fair shake as she believes many of the councilmen and others don’t want her in their boy’s club.
Nash never publicly named the officer she says is harassing her. The councilwoman said she was driving home Friday, Aug. 2, around 10:30 p.m., and was pulled over by an officer for not using her turn signal. She admitted she had done that. The officer gave her a warning and advised her to get a better attitude. She said her only adjustment would have involved smiling or thanking him — which she said most people don’t do in such a situation. Nash said she never pulled rank and didn’t expect special treatment.
Soon after Nash got home, she received a text message from Mayor Wayne Marshall that was sent to all town council members and town employees. “It’s been brought to my attention … some of us on the council feel above the law or deserve special treatment by our town cops,” the message said.
Marshall didn’t answer his phone when Nash called him about the text. He said he was sick. Nash said he could have contacted her to hear her side of the story. “Right after he sent that text, he was unable to answer my call,” she said.
At about 12:30 a.m., about two hours after she was given the warning, the officer came to her door, banged on it frantically and would not identify himself, Nash said. Her parents were visiting from Florida and were so shook up by the events that not only are they no longer interested in moving to Parksley to be closer to their daughter, but they are hoping to persuade her to move away. Her mother took ill from the intrusion, Nash said.
When the person continued to knock, Nash said she feared someone was injured or in need, so, despite her mother’s protests, she opened the door. There she found two officers including the one who had given her the warning. He told her she went through the next intersection without using a blinker and that he had a change of heart about the warning and presented her with two tickets. He previously ticketed her for not having a front license plate and for making a U-turn. The latter was dismissed. She had her license plate in the front window of the car as the vehicle didn’t have a place to put the bolts that would hold a license plate. She had that fixed and paid a $10 fee for court costs.
Nash said after the most recent incident, the officer went in the other direction and had no way of knowing if had she used her blinker at another intersection. She and Councilman Frank Russell both said state law does not require a driver to use the signal if no one else is on the road. Nash said the streets were deserted that night.
The alleged offenses are posted on the Accomack General District Court website and give Officer T. M. Marks as the complainant. He could not be reached for comment and did not attend the meeting Monday. His phone number is not listed and he does not have a Facebook page that could be found.
When Nash contacted Chief Keith Greer, she said he told her he didn’t know anything about the officer going to her home. But the mayor said Greer did know. Neither of the men commented on the inconsistency when it was brought up at the meeting.
Marshall attempted to stop Nash from telling her story. He wanted any comments about employees to be addressed to the worker’s direct supervisor, or if unsuccessful, to him. Nash said she had been to both with no remedy and wanted to get things out in the open. He argued she should have come back to him and she didn’t.
“I’m still a citizen of Parksley,” said Nash. “I want it brought to light in front of the whole town.”
“I think people need to know this,” said Janice Hart, who was in the audience and is a store owner in the town.
“I don’t ever want this to happen again,” said Nash. “I want it stopped … I’m a single woman living at home with an angry cop banging on my door to give me a ticket for a blinker.”
Greer said he gave the officer’s statement to another law enforcement agency so a second opinion could be garnered. Greer is awaiting a response.
The mayor skipped over Nash when going down the list of those who signed up to speak. Then he stopped her at one point and said he wasn’t going to let her “bash” officers.
Finally, after Nash and others in the audience said she should be allowed to speak, she was permitted to do so. The mayor scolded another man who didn’t sign up on the right list because he didn’t come to the meetings often enough to know how the mayor does things.
Marshall later stated, “I probably didn’t handle myself very well at the start of the meeting. I’m sorry. I have some things going on also. I apologize to everyone in here.”
Other residents lodged complaints. The officer was alleged to have stopped another man, who is a professional photographer, for taking pictures of the fire department. The officer allegedly insisted another couple provide a receipt for rocks they put in their flower garden that he suspected were taken from a town pile. A woman complained to another business owner that she was taking her grandchildren to an event and was stopped and for no reason was asked if she had been drinking.
Marshall’s text also stated, “They already have a thankless job, I don’t believe the council needs to make it worse on them. Furthermore, if you have an issue with a cop, such as Kelsie or Tyler, you should reach out to Chief Greer that’s why he is the chief, if your issue is with Chief Greer then call me and I’ll fact find and hopefully resolve the issue … Phoning a friend/council member doesn’t get you out of a ticket they have jobs to do no one even on the council can stop a ticket on a Virginia Summons. I apologize for the late message being sent out if you have questions you can contact me tomorrow I won’t give details but will tell what I can. Thank you goodnight.”
After Nash and the others spoke, the mayor asked, “What exactly do you want the police department to do?”
“Get rid of the bully,” said Nash. “I think we should let him go. That would save us money. I think we should let him go … we paid a lot of money to get him training. We’ve padded his resume. We’ve done enough for him.”
‘I spent my whole life trying to better the town of Parksley,” Russell said later. “It breaks my heart that this situation has come up. And we’re doing all we can to try to rectify it. I want Parksley to continue to be a friendly place for people to come and shop and live.”
About Nash, he added, “Since she has been here, she has done more for the town than anybody and that certainly includes me.”
“They just need to change their attitude,” another man said of the officers.
Jim Valentine of the Club Car Cafe said, “What they should not do is give people tickets for taillights and license plates lights. Maybe after the third time … I forgot to get my car inspected all the time.” He wanted a friendly reminder.
“They are not user-friendly,” said Russell. “They are not approaching people warmly and welcomingly. They are pulling people over for minutia. Parksley can’t survive that way. People do not have to come to Parksley,” it is not on the highway.
Russell said he brought up the problem months ago. “The officers are younger and they don’t have the old school attitude. They’re more geared towards doing the job … It’s not that they are wrong. But look at the interests of the town.” He wanted them to use common sense when talking to people.
Warren Phillips, another business owner, said the first priority should be protecting citizens and property. “Nobody is checking the doors,” he said, adding that the officers used to check them to ensure they were locked. He wanted that service renewed and the council informally agreed.
“It was also mentioned that the town relies on $12,000 of revenue from fines to balance the budget. Last year it was $10,000.”
Nash later said that she has brought in lists of jobs for the maintenance department to do and “rocked the boat. If you bring it up, you get in trouble.” She also noted that she and Russell recently voted against a $6,000 raise for Chief Greer.
It was unclear if the bathrooms would be reopened or if people would have to pick up a key somewhere to use them.
Another woman said she had a customer who had to pay a $105 fine. “Do you think everybody here has money to burn? People are not going to come here and get harassed.”
“We can’t afford this,” said Russell.
“It needs to stop tonight,” said Phillips.
The council met in a closed session that lasted about an hour. When the panel came back into the public session, no vote was taken.