City Election May Be Postponed — CBC Meeting Thursday

Voters throng TJ Elementary last November. (Photo: Falls Church Insider)

Voters at TJ Elementary last November. (Photo: Falls Church Insider)

Falls Church Times Staff

Since its founding, Falls Church City always has held its municipal elections in May or June.  However, that might not be the case in 2010.

Two members of the City Council may introduce a resolution that would shift the next election to November, when it would coincide with races for federal offices.  Councilmen Dan Sze and Lawrence Webb are proposing the change.

According to its Charter, Falls Church municipal elections will be held the first Tuesday in May (Section 3.01).  The only exception applies to City officers mandated by laws of the Commonwealth, who will be elected the first Tuesday in November (Section 3.05).  These are limited to the sheriff, the treasurer, and the commissioner of revenue.

May elections officially are non-partisan.  Those held in November are not.  All current Commonwealth officers are Democrats.

Moving the date of the May election would require amending the Charter.  This could be accomplished via the passage of a resolution by the majority of the entire Council (Section 4.17 (c).

Such action would require four votes.  If passed, the resolution would be forwarded to the General Assembly, which normally approves such changes without debate.

The Council has amended the Charter many times, but most of the changes have been minor.  Citizens also may change the Charter via referendum.  An attempt to limit the amount of residential development in commercially zoned property was defeated in 2008.

Virginia jurisdictions have held municipal elections in the spring since at least the 1870s.  The Commonwealth’s Constitution, states the governing bodies of cities or towns shall be elected on the second Tuesday in June, but allows for exceptions (Article VII, Section 5).

In the early 1970s Falls Church’s Charter was amended to state that four councilmen shall be elected beginning in May 1974 and every four years thereafter and that three shall be elected in May 1976 and every four years thereafter.

The executive board of Citizens for a Better City, an influential organization which endorses and campaigns for City candidates, was advised of the proposal last week and has called a member meeting on the matter Thursday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. in the community room of  The Byron, 513 West Broad St.

October 25, 2009 


9 Responses to “City Election May Be Postponed — CBC Meeting Thursday”

  1. vlfrance on October 25th, 2009 2:22 pm

    I think it would be a good idea to move the May vote to November because there could possibly be a better voter turnout.

    Unfortunately, it would also promote more partisanship. To my disappointment, some of our elected officials sometimes promote personal political beliefs from the City platform. To this point, I believe that our elected officials should be barred from publicly promoting, as a City official, specific party candidates.

  2. Barb Cram on October 25th, 2009 9:10 pm

    Having the City election held in Spring draws motivated City voters. Vote spreads between winners and losers are small in our City Council races. The larger voter turnout in the Fall would benefit the party in power, incumbents. If there is some other reason other than this it should be clearly defined and debated.

  3. Lou Olom on October 25th, 2009 11:31 pm

    I have spoken in opposition to moving our successful nonpartisan election dates to coincide with state and national election dates since this suggestion was first made a few years ago. It doesn’t take much to realize that another attempt is being made to inject state and national issues and views into our local elections, which have been run on a non-partisan basis. Our efforts have worked because it permits the many independents that live in the City to make their choices on a nonpartisan basis. Fifty years of success should not be bargained away in such a hidden if not grotesque manner. Let those who have invented this suggestion lay their cards on the table. It will allow us to debate this fundamental tenet of our election process in Falls Church. To allow this new suggestion to occur will spell the end of the successful work of CBC over the past 50 years years. Because of its attempt to remain independent. And I remember that one of the reasons Falls Church was granted an All-America City award was our non-partisan elections. Let’s not destroy our success in conducting our local municipal affairs. Let us not allow the hidden hand of the national parties to destroy what we have accomplished. Thank you.

  4. Andy Rankin on October 25th, 2009 11:56 pm

    It seems to me that if this change were to be made it should be made after the next two elections. So, next May we could elect four council members to 4.5 year terms and do the same thing two years later for the other three. It seems a little odd for the current council to extend their terms without voter input.

    Speaking of voter input, why not make this change a referendum that we can vote on in the next election? We’ve been doing elections in the spring for 50 years (or whatever) so what’s the rush on making a change? Let’s vote on it.

  5. Jonathan Smythe on October 26th, 2009 10:23 am

    Andy, you are right on here – for a council person to extend their term without voter input is preposterous. This is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Mr. Sze and Mr. Webb have a lot of explaining to do.

  6. Ron Peppe on October 26th, 2009 3:55 pm

    I am out of town Thursday and will be unable to attend the CBC meeting, but wanted to share some of my experience. I am sorry I will not be able to hear the other points of view and ideas at the meeting, but it is great that we have forums like this to help us hear all the ideas.

    I have lived under both systems. Here in Falls Church, I was elected to the school board in the spring and took office July 1. Previously, in Maryland, I was elected in November and took office December 1. I also have experienced the transition from an appointed to an elected board — I was originally appointed by Governor Glendening in Maryland in the spring, and was board chair during the transition. We made the switch from appointed to elected at the same time we made the switch from spring to fall.

    As everyone is noting, there are pros and cons for each alternative.

    First, I assume Falls Church already had the elected vs appointed debate some years ago. In my experience the appointed board worked better together as a team more consistently, but some people thought it did not always represent the diverse views in the community. The Governor did the appointing, and was not always in touch with local concerns. ( For some reason he appointed me, so I can not personally complain!) Having an elected board here seems to work well.

    Second, I am baffled why we have a 7 member council and school board in a jurisdiction the size of Falls Church. More members can help bring in more segments of the community in a large jurisdiction, but it is not hard to hear all voices and consider all angles in Falls Church. I really think smaller (maybe 5) would be more efficient while still assuring all sides are considered. To some extent you get better consideration of minority opinions with a smaller board, since it is easier for constituencies to hang together and elect someone representative. We seem to consistently be having a hard time filling the various boards and commissions here — is more really better?

    Third, I think the spring-versus-fall debate depends on how much faith you put in the idea that we can keep things non-partisan. I know some people will argue that it is all politics and all partisan even if you leave out the mainstream political parties, but having the elections at the same time will provide more opportunity for big D Democrats and big R Republicans (and maybe big G Greens or whatever else is in vogue) to get more involved in the city council and school board races. I am not sure how you could stop the various parties from endorsing candidates, though they can do this now if they wanted to. In my non-partisan election in Maryland, the highest vote getter credited part of her win to her bold proclamation of party affiliation on a mailing she did, even though it was a non-partisan race. My parents, who were working the polls for me, said many people came up and asked “what party is he with.” My biggest problem was that I was on the presidential election cycle, which meant a primary in February and general election in November, so it made for one long and more expensive campaign. If you do not have a primary for these races, you avoid that issue.

    Given all that, I suspect the better question if we head down this route is not WILL partisan politics enter the picture more, but whether HOW will the entrance of more partisan politics change things — for better or worse? Some people think it helps voters sort out who stands for what. I am not personally enamored of any major organized party and would prefer that we evolve to a system based on the beliefs and capabilities of each individual candidate rather than some party line.

    Aside from the theoretical, I would personally love to have to go vote fewer times to hit all the offices, and to save some money, but I understand the argument that separate elections help us focus on each race.

    Sorry I will miss the interesting discussion at the meeting this week.

  7. Charles on October 27th, 2009 9:45 am

    Maybe I am too simplistic, and beyond the partisan issue, this appears to be an attempt by the current Council (majority) to create more time to resolve the financial issues that will weigh on voters minds.

    I have to agree with Andy Rankin that a referendum would be the approriate way forward – to extend your own term in office without the consent / support of the electorate is at best innappropriate (I was going to say dictatorial), and who’s to say that when we get to November they won’t just grant themselves another six months in office!

    I’m a Democrat and even I think this is a partisan move by the Mayor and her “team” (I’m not including Councilmen Snyder and Baroukh in this group) to further consolidate their positions and potentially expand!!

  8. Sara Fitzgerald on October 28th, 2009 11:39 am

    This issue was the subject of a study by the Falls Church League of Women Voters a few years ago. The study can now be reviewed on the League’s Website at

  9. Lawrence Webb on October 28th, 2009 2:41 pm

    Instead of getting into a back and forth here on this site I encouge those who would like to hear my reasons for suggesting change the election to come to the CBC meeting on Thursday night. For the record I have talked about this long before I was elected to Council. I am glad to see that so many folks have an opinon about this issue and hope that it translates into other issues that take place in our city. So I hope to see you Thursday night where I will be more than happy to have a conversation about this topic.

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