By Alex Bridges
Front Royal residents may again help town leaders decide when to hold local elections.
Town Council at a work session on Tuesday discussed options that might allow Front Royal to move elections to November of even-numbered years. Council also discussed a way the town could allow residents employed by the federal government to run for council and mayor.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker requested that council members discuss the option of the town adopting an ordinance to change elections. Parker broached the idea after the Virginia General Assembly killed legislation earlier this month that sought to make changes to the town's charter.
Council asked Town Attorney Douglas Napier to draft an ordinance as prescribed by state code that would move elections. Town Manager Steven Burke said that once Napier develops the proposed ordinance, council members will advertise it for a public hearing. Then they would consider whether or not to adopt the ordinance, Burke explained Wednesday.
How long the process could take depends on the time necessary for Napier to take the language of the failed charter amendment and turn it into an ordinance that would follow standards for code, Burke said.
The town then would need to advertise the public hearing at least two weeks in advance, Burke added. The public hearing could be held in March or April, according to Burke.
If approved, the changes would affect elections starting in 2014. One of the issues raised with the charter amendment legislation was concern that the proposed changes would extend some terms by 18 months to accommodate the switch to November. Some council members anticipated a much shorter extension.
"The requested charter amendment did include extension of council terms for those affected and it will be a similar adjustment to terms with the proposed code [change]," Burke said.
Most council members agreed the legislation and the amendments to the bill went against the wishes of both the town government and residents.
Council held two public hearings last year on the proposed changes to the town charter and had, in requesting charter changes, asked that the state legislature allow the town to hold non-partisan elections. Such an approach is needed to accommodate the large percentage of residents employed by the federal government, Parker has argued. If the town had to hold partisan elections, the federal Hatch Act would bar many residents from running for office.
However, Front Royal can seek designation as a locality exempt from certain regulations in the Hatch Act pertaining to elections. Council asked Napier to investigate how the town would apply for such designation and report that information back to members, Burke said. Front Royal would join more than a dozen localities exempt from the Hatch Act if selected for designation.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org