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Petition circulated to remove Hodge
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Thomas Aquino (left) and Chris Young (middle) discuss a petition that seeks to remove Martinsville City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge on Tuesday in uptown Martinsville. At right is the Rev. Tyler Millner, who voiced his opposition to the petition. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A group of area residents has started a petition drive to try and have Martinsville City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge removed from office over comments they say she made which they believe hurt the community.

The petition drive was launched Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at 37 East on East Main Street uptown. During the event, several people came in and signed petitions.

Under Section 24.2-233 of the Virginia code, the circuit court can remove from office, upon receipt of petitions, any elected official “for neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”

The petition must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the election in which the official was elected, the code section shows. The voters must be registered in the locality in question — in this case, Martinsville.

Chris Young, the group’s spokesperson, said it has been determined about 630 signatures must be collected from city registered voters in order for the Martinsville Circuit Court to consider the petition.

He said the petitions will be available until more signatures are obtained than are needed.

Hodge took office in January. She is the first black woman to ever have served on the council.

“I don’t know if there is another resolution” to the controversy other than for Hodge to resign or be removed, Young said, “unless there’s a way she can change her mentality.”

The controversy erupted at the April 23 council meeting after juniors in a Piedmont Governor’s School research class created a quilt to highlight their experiences in doing a citizens survey for the city. They gave the quilt to the city to be displayed at the municipal building. On Tuesday, city council adopted a motion to accept and hang it in city hall.

During the presentation, Hodge said she was offended by a square on the quilt that depicted a dark-colored person on one side of Philpott Dam and a gold-colored person on the other.

It wasn’t Hodge giving her opinion that has people upset with her, but how she voiced her opinion, speaking angrily to the students, plus comments she has made since then which have inflamed some in the community, Young said.

Personally, “I will not have a council member who will berate children,” said Young.

“It’s not about race,” but rather about an elected official not representing interests of everyone who she was elected to represent, he said.

Hodge has since issued an apology.

However, “she didn’t say she was sorry about what she did. She said she was sorry that people were offended at what she did,” Young said, adding those are two different things.

Thomas Aquino, who also was at the press conference, said Hodge has stated publicly she would support segregated schools.

“How can we move forward?” as a community having an elected official who has such a viewpoint, Aquino asked.

Before the news conference, the Rev. Tyler Millner of Axton, who was part of a coalition of local clergy members who recently voiced support for Hodge, had an impromptu debate with Young and Aquino.

Millner said Hodge had the right to voice her opinion.

Young told Millner he supported Hodge’s right to voice her opinion. But “we need leadership that is going to quit dividing” the community, he said.

Young said the group that started the petition was “a community organized thing ... that kind of snowballed and came together” via social media. He said the group does not have a name and he basically was chosen to be its spokesman after he said he would be willing to do it.


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