By Alex Bridges
The Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday essentially killed a bill that Front Royal officials say would change the town charter against their wishes.
The action ends months of work by Town Council to move elections to November and keep the contests non-partisan, followed by several weeks of hand-wringing by Front Royal officials.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, made a motion before the full house to request that delegates refer the charter bill back to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The motion passed. Gilbert stated in an email that he took the action based on dissatisfaction by some members of the Town Council.
"I am disappointed that some members of the council publicly expressed their desire to see the bill defeated in its current form," Gilbert stated. "Moving the town council elections to November would have saved taxpayer money and made elections more convenient for all residents.
"When this process started, we were led to believe that the November election component was the most important part of this proposal precisely because of the cost and convenience," Gilbert continued. "However, the unfortunate rhetoric that emerged after the bill was altered proved that there was another agenda at work."
Gilbert further explained the reason for his actions.
"My job, and that of my colleagues, is to protect the liberties of all the people we represent in the conduct of public elections, not just the self-interest of a few select politicians," Gilbert stated. "While I appreciate that there are a number of reasons why some town officials may want to protect themselves from the possibility of a future election challenge, I cannot in good conscience vote to disenfranchise thousands of Democrats and Republicans who live in the town by supporting the changes requested by a majority of the council."
Councilman Bret Hrbek on Tuesday criticized Gilbert for his comments.
"It looks like Mr. Gilbert is trying to save face by placing the blame on the town," Hrbek said.
The town went through the public-hearing process to come up with changes to the charter that officials then asked delegates to sponsor through the legislature, Hrbek explained.
"This whole thing is just absolutely ridiculous," Hrbek said. "The twistedness of our delegates is just comical."
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker expressed disappointment over the fact that the town did not receive what they wanted, but noted that at least the General Assembly would not take action on legislation Front Royal did not want.
Town Council on Monday levied harsh criticism against the sponsor of the bill, Del. Michael Webert, R-Warrenton, for ushering legislation through the General Assembly that at first failed to contain language that would allow Front Royal to move elections from May to November in the even-numbered years and to keep the contests non-partisan. However, Webert added amendments that town officials and some members of council said go against their wishes.
The Council at its special called meeting approved a resolution 4-1 asking state Senators Mark Obenshain or Jill Vogel to either amend the bill the way the Town Council asked originally or to kill the bill on the Senate side. Front Royal Councilman Tom Sayre abstained from the vote.
Hrbek acknowledged that fellow Councilman Daryl Funk, who voted against the charter changes, warned members the proposal faced challenges in the General Assembly.
"I wish that we wouldn't have seen all that work go in vain if, at the beginning of the process, Delegates Gilbert, Webert and [Beverly] Sherwood had told us that they weren't going to usher this through as is," Hrbek said. "We sent language down there that they said they would carry and then they molested that language and when we found out what they were doing we did not want that imposed on us."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org