Town council to ask for bill veto

FRONT ROYAL – Town leaders want Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto legislation that would end Mayor Timothy Darr’s political career.

The Virginia General Assembly approved a senate bill that requires ballots in local elections to identify candidates by a nominating political party.

Town Council plans to adopt a resolution at its meeting Monday urging the governor to veto the bill. Should the governor enact the legislation, the rule likely could keep federal employees such as Darr from serving in elected positions.

A spokesman for McAuliffe’s office said Friday that the bill is under review and that the governor’s actions will be announced as they occur.

The legislation comes only a couple of years after council tried unsuccessfully to persuade the General Assembly to allow the town to amend its charter by moving its local elections from May to November and to keep the contests nonpartisan. The town’s delegation during that session failed to push a bill that would grant council’s requests. Council later moved its elections to November by changing the town code rather than its charter. Council also enacted an ordinance that, as part of the town code, prohibits partisan elections. The bill, if enacted, would void the code change.

At council’s work session Monday, some members voiced support for the resolution and Darr. Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe said the Virginia Municipal League encouraged council to ask the governor to veto the legislation. Council needs to stand by Darr and encourage the governor to veto the bill, and members need to act quickly, Tharpe said. Councilman Eugene Tewalt agreed.

“I think we need to stay nonpartisan and not even get involved in Republican, Democrat or Independent,” Tewalt said.

Darr said he would be surprised if McAuliffe didn’t veto the bill.

The proposed resolution states that the legislation “will inject partisanship into local elections.”

“Filling potholes, responding to fires or a burglary call, appropriate zoning of local real estate, paying teachers’ salaries, providing public water and sewer utilities, and trash collection are not partisan issues, yet those are the most important issues that local governments across Virginia confront, and are the issues most important in the daily lives of Virginia’s citizens,” the resolution states.

Moreover, should the governor enact the legislation, then federal employees, including members of federal law enforcement or the U.S. military stationed and who live in Virginia, would be discouraged, possibly prohibited, from running for and serving in local elected offices, per the Hatch Act and the Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, according to the resolution.

Front Royal lies approximately 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., but has not qualified for an exemption from the Hatch Act even though many town residents work for the federal government, the resolution notes.

“These men and women serve their country, frequently at the risk of their lives, and should be allowed to serve the communities in which they live, pay taxes and send their children to school, and should not be disenfranchised from the local political process for raw partisan purposes which serve no demonstrable local purpose,” the resolution states.

The resolution also points out that the close votes by the House of Delegates and the Senate illustrate that members had doubts about the legislation.

Approximately 70 percent of localities nationwide hold nonpartisan elections, the resolution notes.

The case of Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections, decided March 4 in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, casts doubt on the constitutional validity of the senate bill, the resolution goes on to state.

Sen. David R. Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, filed the bill. Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville, and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, voted in favor of the legislation. The House of Delegates passed the bill with an amendment that states the law applies except where the provisions of a local charter provide to the contrary to the requirement. Front Royal’s representatives in the House, Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, and Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, voted in favor of the legislation. Information from the Virginia legislative website shows Del. Michael Webert, R-Warrenton, was recorded as having not voted but intended to vote against the legislation.

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