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Council Candidates Address Joe Cobb’s Controversial $658 Dinner

As reported here, on March 31 Roanoke Council member and candidate Joe Cobb (D) took a still-unnamed group of 16 individuals to a fee-only exhibit at the Taubman Art Museum for $250 and then to Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar for a dinner costing $658.79, for an average of $41 per diner.

Cobb claims he intended for the total cost of the evening ($883.79) to be paid out from the $500,000 grant from the Gun Violence Intervention Program Grant given to the City by the State of Virginia. However, since the evening did not include any meeting, the State labeled the affair as “entertainment” and said grant money could not be used for such purposes. On June 9 Cobb reimbursed the City for the evening from his own pocket.

However, the incident has sparked questions from some Roanokers and outrage from others. Some bristle at the fact that Cobb tried to use gun violence grant money to cover a lavish dinner including steak, trout, and swordfish, while Roanoke’s violence continues to spiral. Others want to know why this incident – which occurred in March – was kept hidden during the Democrat primary and most of the fall election cycle until it was broken by local media on October 24, 207 days after the meal.

Adding to the controversy is what role if any Cobb’s position as Chair of the City’s Audit Committee had in keeping the story under wraps for so long.

To date, Cobb has refused to answer questions or provide his account of events to The Roanoke Star. However, other candidates running for Roanoke City Council have shared their thoughts on the controversy.

“I am extremely disappointed in Mr. Cobb’s lack of judgement in this instance,” said Republican Nick Hagan. “At a time when we are literally holding a special election due to the mismanagement of funds by a former council member, Mr. Cobb did not have the foresight to take a step back for a moment and ask himself, ‘Does a large dinner meet the requirements to use money to curb gun violence?’ It shows a lack of foresight.”

“Furthermore, I am equally concerned over the issue of why this audit would not have been originally shared with the public until after the election. Roanoke City Council has a long history of using governmental power for political gain. Again, considering we are holding a special election due to the impropriety of one of our elected representatives, I am dismayed at our government’s lack of transparency.”

“It’s disappointing and concerning.  I’m disappointed in the poor judgement from Joe Cobb in his decision to use the city’s credit card for nearly $900 in extravagant purchases for anonymous corporate contractors,” added Dalton Burgess (R). “It’s very disappointing given that he was doing this in his capacity as head of the Gun Violence Commission.  I’m more concerned with the lack of transparency.  Joe Cobb’s night on the town happened in March.  The Audit Committee (who holds quarterly meetings) slated this particular incident to be discussed in December – well after the city council election.  Not to mention, Joe Cobb is chair of the audit committee.  The entire process lacks integrity and it shows a broken system.  It took a whistleblower to expose the bad behavior.  Roanokers need leaders who hold each other accountable and work for the people, not the other way around. It’s absolutely why we to elect a balanced city council.”

“I think with the article stating the facts that they have and councilman Joe Cobb saying there is no wrong done, the people need to make a decision come November 8th,” said Rev. Preston Tyler (I). “But with the Republicans trying to bash the Democrats and the Democrats trying to keep their seats on council, there is an independent who is trying to bring this city together. To be a voice for every citizen in Roanoke. Because after this election we have to ALL work together to Build a Better Roanoke.”

To date, Cobb’s three Democrat running mates have not submitted any comments regarding this controversy or its unusual timing.

–Scott Dreyer

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