Lawmakers fail to change town charter language as requested by Town Council
By Alex Bridges
State legislators ignored a last plea by Front Royal officials to change the town's charter the way its elected leaders wanted.
The House of Delegates on Monday by a voice vote approved a bill that seeks to change the town charter. Changes include switching local elections from May to November in the odd-numbered years. Elections also can be non-partisan, though the charter allows candidates to run for a party. The changes go against those approved by Town Council, which after months of debate and discussion chose to move elections to November of the even-numbered years and to keep contests non-partisan.
Town Council on Monday night added the topic to a special called meeting by request of Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker.
Council voted to ask Town Attorney Douglas Napier to draft a resolution asking state Senators Jill Vogel and Mark Obenshain to return the "unmolested" language to the charter. In the alternative, the resolution asks the senators to leave the bill in the legislature so it cannot be enacted into law.
Mayor Timothy Darr noted that the language on partisan elections would eliminate him from running for re-election given his job as a federal employee.
Parker said neither Del. Michael Webert, R-Warrenton, nor Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, would oblige his request to restore the charter language.
Parker called Webert's actions a "dereliction of duty."
Councilman Bret Hrbek said he was shocked that Webert had no problem including language that would extend council terms by 18 months.
Councilman Daryl Funk expressed worry that council needs to work with delegates. Funk had voted against the charter changes.
"It's an issue of ethics," Darr said. "The right thing has not been done here."
A letter from Napier to Sherwood, dated Sunday and distributed at the meeting, emphasized council's displeasure with the delegates' action.
"The above changes not only completely negate everything Front Royal's Town Council sought to accomplish, not only completely thwart the will of the voters of Front Royal ..." Napier states.
"In short, [House Bill 2051], as gratuitously and unwelcomely changed once it got to Richmond, is directly violative of the will of the people of Front Royal and of the Town Council of Front Royal, but also violates notions of fair play and all notions of local government being bottom-up government."
Napier goes on to state "It is top-down, cram-it-down your throat, big centralized government for the benefit of a few rather than for the many, all too reminiscent of what one sees in the Middle East or other despotic governments, not at all keeping in the traditions of democratically elected representative state government, as envisioned by Messrs. Jefferson and Madison and other great Virginians."
Parker said he would hope that other localities represented by Webert are made aware of what their delegate has done.