This one is tough to write. I’ve been hard on various local officials when I think they deserve it, and I have given credit when I believe credit is due. Out of all the shady and evasive actions taken by various Manassas city officials, one such official I have always thought was above that fray was Councilman Shaun Edwards, son of Councilwoman Tonya Edwards.
Unfortunately, that vision was shattered by something I read in the Tattnall paper recently. And that thing was the biography accompanying his nomination as Citizen of the Year, as published on page 15 in the March 2nd, 2017, edition of The Journal Sentinel.
Don’t get me wrong. If Shaun were Joe Citizen, I would have a lot of respect for the man. Outside of the context of his association (by virtue of his council seat) with some of the ridiculous actions of the Manassas government, if you just met him, spoke to him, and saw him interacting with people, any rational person would respect him. Until this expose’ in the paper, and connecting those dots with some of the fishy actions in Manassas, I still held a lot of respect for him. Outside of his involvement with the city government, I would have thought that he would make an excellent choice as Citizen of the Year. But that isn’t what this is about.
There is a lot we haven’t written about yet, but one incident that happened last August was that two city contractors, members of a prison work crew, trespassed on our property, exposed themselves and appeared to urinate on a bush and on our home while my family was inside. The inmate apparently urinating on our home within feet of a door was in full view of the guard during this behavior, while the other inmate appeared to be outside the view or control of the guard. That is a sordid tale, and you’ll get the full story soon, but the upshot is that Shaun was only one of two voices on the city council who appeared to take this incident seriously (the other was Councilman Michael Godbee, to his credit) when I lodged a complaint with the city at the September city council meeting on the 12th of that month. Shaun’s mother, Councilwoman Edwards, was noted snickering during my description of the incident, regardless of the risk it posed to my 14-year-old homeschooled daughter, who could have walked outside into this potentially dangerous situation at any time.
It is also important to note that, in early 2016, Shaun was selected as the Mayor Pro Tem, and thus responsible for filling-in for the mayor when she is unable to perform the duties of her office. In this capacity, it is his responsibility to stay informed regarding city operations, so that he can step in when duty calls. The other council members select this official from among their ranks, so it is clear that the rest of the council hold him in high regard, an important detail for later. At the time, I thought he was an excellent choice for this position. He was certainly a huge step up from the previous Mayor Pro Tem, his mother, under whose short tenure as mayor following the resignation of former mayor Roy Godbee (Michael’s father) the city grossly bobbled a sidewalk contract. My regular readers may recall that this sidewalk fiasco is what drew my attention to city operations in the first place.
Another shady practice by the city is its recent evasion regarding two recent open records requests I have made. One of these requests was for a list of all grants from any source received by the city, and the other for a list of any financial accounts held by the city. Rather than produce this information, the city has offered to let me root through a box of papers. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, in normal circumstances, that might not seem that goofy for a small city (one would hope they have a better way of knowing where the citizens’ money is held, for example), but hang on, it gets better. Or worse, in the case of Councilman Shaun Edwards.
My readers will also recall that, after my initial inquiry into city operations, Mayor Wanda Rogers went to Quinton Rush’s sheriff’s office and what came out of that meeting was a ridiculous criminal allegation against me. You will also recall that I gave the city two opportunities, one under the tenure of each city attorney, to walk back this allegation as a mistake or misunderstanding, and that the city declined to do so on both occasions.
So what does all this have to do with Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Shaun Edwards, and his recent Citizen of the Year nominee biography in the Tattnall paper? Plenty, as it turns out. There is a lot to read in that bio, and we’ll mention more of it in future articles, but here are the top two quotes for now.
The first important quote from that biography is, “Shaun … received a degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia Southern University.”
To be clear, the Mayor Pro Tem of Manassas, a city which made a ridiculous criminal allegation against a citizen after that citizen made a lawful open records request and insisted that the city government follow state law in several specific ways, has a degree in criminal justice. Now, that isn’t the same level of competency in the subject as being a trained and certified law enforcement officer, but it is certainly a huge step up that ladder from a degree in advanced basket weaving. He should also have had some special insight into the criminal aspect of the prison crew misbehavior, and in particular the apparent negligence of the guard. And yet, despite his qualification to apply better judgement to those criminal allegations against me, the city has declined to even respond to me about my offer to let them walk it back.
The second important quote from that biography is the next sentence, “He is currently the Director of Records and Archives at Georgia Southern University.”
That one really caught my eye. Manassas, the same city that claims it can’t produce any better documentation for grants received and accounts held than to allow us to root around in a mystery box of papers, has currently serving as Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem a man who …
… is the Director …
… of Records and Archives …
… at Georgia Southern University.
He isn’t just some guy working an office job filing papers and getting his boss coffee. He is the boss of all the people filing the records and getting him coffee. He is also the number two official in Manassas, selected for that role by the council because of their recognition of his abilities. And yet, Manassas can’t give a straight answer as to where the money came from, and where it went. It doesn’t get any fishier than that.
Except that it does.
Remember I said above that in the aftermath of the disgusting inmate incident that Councilwoman Tonya Edwards, Shaun’s mother, snickered about this behavior, and that Councilman Shaun Edwards appeared to be a voice of reason? Interestingly, since that uncharacteristic display of spine, Councilman Shaun faded into the background once again. I thought this blip was a little odd, so I did some digging.
It turns out, according to qpublic.com and a trip to the courthouse archives, that starting in September, Councilwoman Tonya Edwards began transferring property to her son, Shaun. See for example this listing, where the councilwoman’s home was transferred to him as a gift, on the 27th of September, 2016. Same for the adjoining properties, where the councilman appears to have lived with his family for years.
Is it really that unusual that a mother would transfer property to her son? Not at all. What is fishy about all this is the timing. In late July, my attorney filed the first ante litem with the city about the ridiculous criminal allegations. In August, the city’s inmate work crew made a display of indecent exposure on my property. In early September, I complained about this dangerous and provocative incident; while his mother snickered about it, Shaun displayed a rare blip of spine and empathy. Later that month, Councilwoman Tonya Edwards transferred or began transferring a large amount of property to Councilman Shaun Edwards, and his spine has yet to be seen since. Meanwhile, the city has avoided giving specific answers to specific questions about monies in, out and held, while the Director of Records and Archives at Georgia Southern University, Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem fades into the background. There are more relevant events than that small list, we’ll get to those in future articles, but I think that this small list is enough to illustrate my point.
I think all this is very fishy. You may read it differently. I see five possible explanations for Councilman Shaun Edwards’ ongoing acquiescence in the face of all of this shady behavior:
First, he could simply be ignorant of the existence or degree of their evasion and deception. Yet his degree from and his position of trust and responsibility at Georgia Southern appears to rule this one right out. I don’t think he gets to claim ignorance of the city’s behavior itself since he has been a central figure in the operation of that government since about 2011. If he is that incompetent, which I do not believe for a moment, he should resign his public positions, both in the city and at Georgia Southern. If someone is in over his head in any situation, there is no dishonor in admitting that, but again, I do not believe that either position is beyond his capabilities.
Second, perhaps he is simply apathetic about city operations. If this is the case, if he doesn’t care enough about the position to properly represent the city, then he should resign his seat on the council and focus on his day job. Certainly no one could fault him for taking this option; his day job at Georgia Southern unquestionably serves the public as a whole better than his position in this rattle-trap, backfiring excuse for a city.
Third, perhaps he has warned city officials to stop the shady behavior, or coached them to do better, and the rest have simply ignored him. Our own Audrey, during her tenure on the city council, experienced this situation first-hand. The honorable thing to do in this circumstance is to resign in protest, and state his grievances, as did Audrey. At least then the public would know, with some authority, what is going on. He also wouldn’t get dragged down into oblivion with the rest.
Fourth, he may have been coerced into collaborating against his better judgment through any number of means. Someone in this circumstance who has specific knowledge of misconduct would be in a tight spot, but often failure to take any action (including failure to resign), could be considered conspiracy or misconduct as an accessory, if indeed any misconduct has occurred. One might ask him for his opinion on this as a criminal justice major. Regardless, since we don’t know all the details yet, we should table this one until we do, but leave it open as the benefit of the doubt for him if indeed he has been coerced by any party. Resignation would be a reasonable first step to recovery; public officials often cite “personal reasons” when in this situation.
Fifth, and the only remaining option that I can imagine, is that he is neck-deep in it all, a willing and eager collaborator in the actions of the city. This is the one option I really don’t want to believe. However, the combination of the repeated and systematic evasion and deception by city officials, his experience and qualifications, their selection of him as Mayor Pro Tem, and his failure to have resigned for any number of good reasons, gives me reason to have to consider this option as a viable possibility.
And then there is the issue of Councilman Shaun Edwards’ wife. She holds a position of high public trust (the details of which are unimportant for our purposes), has been recognized for her excellence in that position, and yet has appeared to diligently avoid any needless contact or association with the city government whatsoever. At first, I thought this was a little odd, but now, the more I learn about the situation, the wisdom of her detachment becomes more clear. I met her once, and was immediately impressed, and then curious. No doubt she would be an asset to the city, so her non-participation was enlightening, and continues to enlighten the more we probe into the dark recesses of Manassas. Her name isn’t even listed on the property transfers we have seen; perhaps she declined to be included. Certainly, should all of this blow up, it appears that none of the splatter should stick to her at all.
It may be that out of all the people in this little dipstick burgh who are getting checks from public or quasi-public bodies, that Councilman Shaun Edwards’ wife has more wisdom, foresight, character and rationality than any of them, combined.
Maybe she should be the one nominated for Citizen of the Year, instead.