BERRYVILLE — A local man who claims Berryville Mayor Patricia Dickinson violated his free speech rights is taking her to court as part of an attempt to eventually have her ousted from office.
Brian McClemens believes Dickinson removed from a Facebook page comments he made in opposition to the new McDonald’s restaurant in Berryville. In her official capacity as mayor, Dickinson uses the page to keep town residents informed about local matters.
On Friday, McClemens filed a small claims civil action in Clarke County General District Court, seeking from Dickinson $1 in damages plus $54 in court costs. His court appearance was scheduled for 9 a.m. July 25.
“If she pays that (money) ... she’s admitting guilt,” he said.
Dickinson did not return a phone message seeking comment on whether she will pay the total of $55.
McClemens said that through the civil action, he ultimately hopes to establish evidence that Dickinson acted inappropriately in relation to her office so he can start a petition seeking a recall measure on the Nov. 5 election ballot.
Under state code Subsection 24.2-233, a circuit court — after receiving a petition — can remove any elected officer, or person appointed to fill an elective office, who lives within the court’s jurisdiction. The petition must be signed by a number of registered voters equaling at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the race for that office in the most recent election.
Neglect of duty, misuse of office and incompetence in the performance of the office’s duties are among reasons why a court can remove an officer, the subsection shows.
McClemens has consulted with Leesburg attorney Caleb Kershner. However, he said he plans to represent himself in court. Lawyers cannot represent either party in court in small claims proceedings in Virginia, websites concerning state law show.
On June 20, McClemens announced plans to sue Dickinson, claiming she violated his free speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution by hiding his comments.
At 9:43 a.m. June 5, Dickinson posted on her “dickinsonasmayor” Facebook page, “10 a.m. tomorrow. Let’s meet at the McDonald’s! Yeah.” The restaurant opened at that time on June 6.
In a subsequent post, McClemens responded by saying, “You are seriously delirious, so glad to see that you care more about a corporate business instead of your locally owned mom and pop restaurants .. Tick-Tock your time is running out as Mayor!”
Responding to McClemens’ comments on the social media site, Dickinson posted, “I support all of the businesses in Berryville, irrespective of ownership. It is the diversity of businesses that adds to our quality of life.”
“Really, You Thank (think) McDonald’s really ask (adds) Quality to our life? You are serious delirious...,” McClemens responded.
He then posted a link to the website listovative.com on “10 Reasons why you should not eat Food at McDonalds.” That web page gives opinions on matters ranging from food quality and personal weight control to employee wages and the environment.
Dickinson made the following post to her Facebook page at 10:21 a.m. June 6:
“Today, for the first time, I had to hide two posts and ban someone from posting comments on my page. I accept that there are those who do not agree with my decisions or my position on certain items. However, I cannot permit anyone to use my Facebook page to disparage a competitor. And that is what has happened. A local business owner posted some negative comments about another Berryville business and that is unacceptable. I hope you understand that I do not take lightly this decision. The hidden posts are still there and can be obtained via a FOIA request, but I will not have them appear on my page. Thank you for your understanding.”
McClemens’ wife, Heidi, owns The Berryville Grille on Main Street. He has said that he manages a restaurant in Leesburg and has no ownership or involvement in his wife’s restaurant.
All of McClemens’ and Dickinson’s remarks currently are on the Facebook page.
McClemens said he did not file his court case until Friday because he and his attorney have been reviewing information they received from the town through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. He said the request was for all of Dickinson’s postings to her mayor-related Facebook page and “anything edited, deleted or altered” on the page.
It took town officials 14 days to respond to the FOIA request, he said.