Town seeks charter change again

FRONT ROYAL – A state delegate’s bill filed Wednesday seeks to change the town’s charter, reviving an effort that failed several years ago in the General Assembly.

Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, whose district covers part of Warren County and Front Royal, met with Town Council members last year to discuss what they hoped the legislator could do for the locality in the 2018 session. Ahead of that meeting, council members talked about Front Royal’s needs, including the charter changes, they would like to see addressed in the legislative session.

The bill filed by Collins seeks to amend the town’s charter to reflect the change in the elections for mayor and council from May to November and that the ballots continue the practice of  not identifying candidates by political-party affiliation or any other manner that would disqualify them for candidacy under any state or U.S. law.

The proposed charter also would allow, but not require the council to fill any vacancy on its membership for an unexpired term provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the seat becoming vacant. The appointed person would hold the office until voters fill the vacancy by special election, the proposed charter states. Circuit judges would appoint someone to fill the vacancy if the council cannot agree or does not act to select an appointee.

The proposed legislation also seeks to add to the charter a provision stating that “council shall have all the powers and authority to remedy, remove, repair, and secure any blighted or derelict building or structure that are granted to any other city, town, or county in the Commonwealth.” Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt has sought this power for the town for years, citing the growing number of derelict buildings in Front Royal. The state allows cities to better address blight but does not extend this power to towns.

The council tried to persuade the General Assembly in its 2014 session to change the town charter. Council sought to move the local elections from May to November of  even-number years. The town also wanted the charter to reflect that elections would remain non-partisan. Members also requested that legislators make other changes to the charter.

But the bill filed in the 2014 session by Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, whose district includes part of Warren County and Front Royal, did not reflect what most council members at the time sought as changes to the charter. Eventually, Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, also a representative of Front Royal, took action that effectively killed the legislation.

The council then worked to change the timing of the local elections by way of an amendment to the town code.

The proposed legislation also would change outdated language in the current charter and also eliminates mention of the boundaries of the town’s corporate limits.