Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. stirred up controversy in Lynchburg in late March after admitting he had secretly videotaped a meeting with local officials.
Falwell arranged a surreptitious recording of a meeting he and other university officials held with Lynchburg Mayor Joan Foster and the city manager, reported the Lynchburg News & Advance.
The newspaper said Falwell signed off on the recording, which was made by concealing a camera behind some books.
Local officials were not pleased.
“It bothers me they taped us without telling us,” Foster said. “I went over there with a huge trust factor and a sincere heart. I’m trying to build our relationship.”
Falwell defended his actions by claiming he was just trying to make sure Lynchburg officials kept promises they had allegedly made to him. Falwell wants to expand Liberty University and has demanded that the council vote to relax zoning requirements so the school can grow.
Falwell claims he was promised that the council would quickly vote 7-0 in his favor on the zoning issue. To make sure, he said, he arranged to have the meeting recorded.
Foster and City Manager Kimball Payne say they made no such promise to Falwell. The videotape was released, but the audio quality is poor and it’s impossible to tell what was said in parts.
Falwell has refused to apologize or admit he was in the wrong.
“So many people are trying to say this was a political maneuver with the timing or that we’re trying to fire a shot over the bow of the council, but that had nothing to do with it,” Falwell said.
Critics are skeptical of that claim. Falwell has been openly boasting about his plan to use LU students to take over Lynchburg’s city council and stack it with candidates who will do what he wants.
In November of 2009, LU students were the deciding factor in a close race for a House of Delegates seat for the Lynchburg area. Due to Falwell’s machinations, incumbent Democrat Shannon Valentine lost her race with Republican Scott Garrett by about 200 votes. (See “Big Brother,” April 2010 Church & State.)
With controversy growing over the covert taping, Falwell called an unusual press conference April 8. He read a statement insisting that the flap over the tape is a “diversion.” He also complained that he is “vilified in the press.”
Falwell then left the room without taking questions.