Roanoke councilman stepping down, citing conflict of interest

John Garland is a local developer

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke City Councilman John Garland is stepping down. 

City leaders and Roanoke's communications officer Melinda Mayo confirmed that Garland has submitted his letter of resignation, citing a conflict of interest due to his role as a developer. 

Outlined in an email Garland sent to Council, Garland was facing a tough decision on whether to continue to serve his tenants or divest his properties to be able to fulfill his desire for public service. 

It was a conflict of interest to accept HUD dollars, and because of a conflict of interest with the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, he was not going to be able to accept lease agreements with long-time tenants. Garland did not want to evict tenants, which is what he would have had to do if he didn't divest his properties. 

"In a couple cases we had bought properties with section 8 tenants already living there so in some cases they had already been living there for a long time and I felt like it would be pretty disruptive to those tenants to have to be faced with a move just because I'm on city council," Garland said.

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea added that the council will have 30 days to fill the position. They will discuss that in the next council meeting, which is set for January 7. 

"It's sad to see him go, and he had to make a decision and I respect the decision and we're going to miss him,"  Lea said. "I've been through resignations of the council members twice, so I unfortunately have experience in doing this." 

Garland was a well-liked member of council, who found a natural fit once elected, despite his position being immediately called into question by a select few in the community who felt that he was on council only to serve himself. Garland said that was never the case, running instead because he loves the city and only wanted to see it prosper.

On a number of occasions Garland recused himself from discussion or votes on topics that he had connections with, but Garland said perceived conflicts-of-interest were more common than actual conflicts-of-interest.

"I'm really sad to see him go and I think he's done a lot of good in our community and I hope that he can continue to do that good work," Councilwoman Djuna Osborne said. "He is a good friend, we're seat-mates, and I'm sad to see him put in this position."

Garland was a self-proclaimed people's politician with no formal background in politics before his run for council. He has strong family roots in the area and owns and manages Garland Properties with his son Aaron Garland. He said he will be able to better serve the city through his development company now that he is unhinged from council, separate from what became a logistical headache with him in his elected position.

"I regret that he feels that it is in the best interest for the city to step down," Councilwoman Anita Price said.

John Garland is a well-known charitable supporter of the community and an advocate for the Star City, living his entire life in Roanoke.

“We’re sorry to lose him because as a developer had tremendous land use and architectural insight and it’s a tough loss for the citizens,” Lea said. 

Here is the entirety of the email Garland sent to Council: 

It is with regret that I submit my resignation as a member of City Council.  As a developer, which is my passion, I continue to run up against conflict of interest rules.  Most recently, the RRHA has determined, that in their opinion, I have a conflict of interest in having some tenants that receive Section 8 rental vouchers.  My options to resolve this situation, included divesting myself of the properties, having tenants removed from my properties or no longer be on City Council.   I am unable to divest myself of multiple properties owned by diverse partners and I do not want to have to ask long term tenants to move when it is disruptive to their lives and has nothing to do with them.  I am also not allowed to have tenants that are recipients of HUD grants, which I am quite sure will continue to be a problem.

After careful review and consideration, I have decided that my ability to serve my community is best served as a developer, while not simultaneously serving on City Council.  I will work with Bob Cowell for a smooth transition, while Council is able to find a suitable interim Council member to serve out my term.  One candidate that I would hope that you would consider is Trish White Boyd, whom lost the election in 2016 by only 47 votes. If she is willing, I feel she would bring great value to City Council

Wishing you the best in your service to our Great City.

John Garland

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