Council to try charter changes again

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council could try its luck again and ask state legislators next year to change the local charter.

Council brought up the topic at its work session Monday when council members heard from Town Attorney Doug Napier about proposed revisions. The discussion prompted some council members to suggest the town move local elections back to May, but that idea has not yet been included in the proposed charter revisions.

Mayor Timothy Darr said council needs to bring the matter to another work session. Napier reminded council the town should draft charter revisions in the next month or two and pass it on to the delegate who plans to carry the request to the General Assembly.

Council tried to seek the General Assembly’s adoption of several proposed changes to the Town Charter during the 2013 session. The most significant proposed charter amendment sought to change the Town Council and mayoral elections from the first Tuesday in May in the even-numbered years to the general election day in November in the even-numbered years. The effort failed and council later changed its local elections to November by way of a code amendment.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he would rather keep the election date in the code so future councils can change it back if so desired. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger said she would like to move the elections back to May even though she initially supported holding the contests in November.

Egger also has suggested that the town place term limits on council members. Tewalt said he would like council to change the charter to give the mayor voting power on all issues, not just in the event of a tie.

Darr reminded council of the previous attempt and said they need to decide how much time and effort members want to take.

“It took us longer to get it worked up, put together than it did (for) the General Assembly to squash it the last time,” Darr said. “We worked on this so much the last time and we had what we thought was a good product.”

Egger asked if council could find out why legislators would not support the charter.

“They don’t know our town like we do,” Egger said.

Councilman John Connolly noted that “the town’s charter is completely subject to whatever whims the General Assembly brings to it.”

“It seems so odd like if I was in the General Assembly I don’t feel like I would feel qualified to be making changes to some rinky-dink town’s charter that they send me,” Egger said.

“That’s what happens when you got three representatives,” Darr said, referring to the delegates whose districts include parts of the town.

Del. Michael Webert, R-Warrenton, carried legislation in 2013 that requested the General Assembly’s approval of the proposed charter amendments. However, council members realized the language of the proposed amendments did not reflect what they desired from the General Assembly. After several council members levied criticism on Webert, Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who also represents Front Royal in the General Assembly, made a motion to send the legislation back to a committee that would not meet again that session, effectively killing the bill. (In the 2015 session, Gilbert’s bill seeking to revise Luray’s Town Charter by shifting local elections from May to November passed easily through the General Assembly with no opposition.)

Council took action later in 2013 to change the town’s elections from May to November of the even-numbered years by way of an amendment to the town code.

Town leaders also had asked the General Assembly to change the charter to make elections to council and mayor non-partisan so federal employees could hold office. Political parties can endorse candidates but hopefuls do not run under a party label. Other changes as requested would allow Town Council to designate additional officers by ordinance; to allow minutes of meetings to be kept in electronic format in lieu of hard-copy books; to allow the publication of proposed ordinances and other notices by any method allowed by law; and to combine the duties of town treasurer with the town manager or finance director.

Napier noted that council also is requested to consider and discuss any other amendments to the charter, such as if the town wants to retain its zoning authority over state directives regarding AIRbnb and grant more control over cleaning up derelict properties.

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