Council to try charter changes again

FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council could switch local elections back to May if members support the change.

The council plans to discuss potential changes to the town charter at its work session Monday. Some current and now former members have expressed an interest in moving the elections for council and the mayor back to May, saying state and national contests seem to overshadow the local ballots. Some members say they support keeping the local elections in November because the national contests attract more voters.

Some council members remain skeptical that the Virginia General Assembly and, specifically, Front Royal’s delegation, would champion the town’s push for charter changes. Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt revived the discussion earlier this year and advised members to start working on any proposed charter changes now rather than wait until the end of the year. The council then could meet with any of the town’s representatives in the General Assembly to discuss the proposed changes. The legislator then would have time to prepare a bill seeking the charter changes before the next General Assembly session, Tewalt  explained.

Town Attorney Doug Napier said Friday that council members also could bring up their own suggested charter changes at the work session.

The town would need the support of the General Assembly to make any changes to Front Royal’s charter. The town ran into trouble in 2013 when, after months of working on a list of proposed changes, legislation introduced by one of Front Royal’s representatives in the General Assembly did not exactly mirror the council’s wishes. Specifically, the council asked that the town move its local elections from May to November in the even-numbered years. The council also wanted the charter to reflect that elections would remain non-partisan.

Ultimately, the General Assembly killed the charter legislation after the council protested. The council later amended the town code to  move the local elections from May to November of even-numbered years.

But now council could try to move local elections back to May. Legislators can undo the change to the town code.

Council in late November 2012 passed proposed amendments to the town charter and notified its state legislators by letter of these requested changes. Council sought other changes to the charter that also failed to pass as part of the overall legislation as introduced.

The town’s representation in the General Assembly has changed since the 2013 session with the election of Del. Chris Collins, whose district stretches through Winchester and Frederick County. Council members have met with Collins ahead of recent General Assembly sessions to express their hopes for what legislators could do for the town. However, Tewalt has criticized Collins on more than one occasion for not helping the town in the General Assembly.