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Council to hear from public on election move

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal Town Council again plans to try to move elections to November.

For the third time in less than a year, council will hear input from residents about the proposed change. But this time, Town Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday on an ordinance that, if approved, would move council and mayoral elections from May to November on the even-numbered years. The ordinance also calls for elections to remain nonpartisan by not requiring ballots to identify candidates by political affiliation.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker said Friday he likely would again support the move.

"We weren't able to get the state to understand our side, so we'll do it by ordinance as state code allows and then follow through from there. But hopefully there'll still be support there from the council and hopefully the public will come out and give their input as well," Parker said. "Hopefully, we can accomplish this by our own means and then tackle the charter in the future."

Council members whose terms end in June of the election year would have their time in office extended to December. Councilman Daryl L. Funk, one of the members who would receive an extra six months on his first term should the ordinance pass, said Friday he does not favor the proposal.

Funk argued the proposed change would create inconsistent elections, with a majority of the electorate voting for some council seats and a mayor at the same time as a presidential election. The next election two years later would not coincide with a presidential contest and as such, he said, would drew fewer voters. Candidates could decide to run based on whether there's a presidential election, he said.

"It basically lets you pick and choose," Funk said. "I just think if the goal was true democracy and maximum turnout, this isn't the answer."

Funk said that regardless of how council acts on the election matter, he wants to get the issue behind them to address the town's more pressing needs.

Council's recent efforts to move the town elections to November began in early 2011 with a survey of residents' feelings about it. Parker recalled that of the 900 surveys returned, approximately two-thirds or more showed support for the move.

At a public hearing in June 2011, many residents spoke in favor of moving elections. Councilman Thomas H. Sayre's motion to amend the code to move elections to November failed by a vote of 4-3. Mayor Timothy W. Darr, who broke the tie vote, had questioned whether moving elections would lead to higher voter turnout.

Council revived the issue in 2012, but pursued a different approach. Members held a public hearing in October on the question of changing the charter by legislative action in the Virginia General Assembly. No one spoke against moving elections to November in the even-numbered years or the push for nonpartisan contests. Council held a second public hearing on the charter changes in November.

Town officials in late 2012 sought the help of Delegates C. Todd Gilbert, Beverly Sherwood and Michael Webert, who represent parts of Front Royal. As the legislative session loomed, the bill sponsored by Webert did not include language sought by town officials on elections. After vocal and written protest by town leaders, Webert added an amendment to the legislation that also passed a House committee. That amendment spurred most council members to express anger and worry that the bill, if passed, would go against the town's wishes. The House then approved a measure by Gilbert that effectively killed the bill for the session.

After the session, Council revisited the ordinance approach.

Town council membership has changed since the June 2011 vote. Thomas E. Conkey, a supporter of Sayre's motion along with Parker, no longer serves on council. Darr and Councilmen Hollis L. Tharpe and Carson C. Lauder Jr. and then Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway voted against the motion at the meeting. Holloway and Lauder no longer serve on council.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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