MAN ABOUT TOWN: Repeal the Election Date Change
September 20, 2010
Today marks eight months and nine days since the previous Falls Church City Council enacted the most outrageous, arrogant, audacious, cocksure, slam-dunk, unilateral, tin-pot-dictatorial measure of its two-year tenure. (*) Ignoring outcries of leading citizens to at least hold a referendum, the City Council hastily moved the date for local elections from May to November.
At the time I believed that consolidating elections in November seemed like a good idea, but only if approved in a referendum – especially given 1) the vehement opposition, and 2) the desperate and patently transparent attempt by incumbents to postpone elections in the face of an impending citizens’ revolt.
In the end, the Council majority won the battle but lost the war. In order to postpone last May’s election they would have had to pass their resolution before the end of the previous calendar year. Time ran out, and the change wasn’t approved until January 11, 2010 – too late to derail the historic May 2010 election that upset the power structure’s apple cart.
Only two members on the previous City Council opposed the shotgun wedding. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of them is our new mayor and the other is our new vice mayor. Meanwhile, of the five supporters of the election change, three no longer sit on Council, a fourth is no longer mayor, and the fifth appears to have seen the error of his ways.
Here’s a rundown on how today’s sitting Council members stand:
MAYOR BAROUKH: Adamantly opposed, he led the campaign to let the voters decide in a referendum.
VICE MAYOR SNYDER: Issued a campaign promise to “Send the issue of future election dates to the voters by referendum and implement the direction they give” within 100 days of being elected. (You have 18 days left, Mr. Vice Mayor.)
MS. BARRY: “Along with many citizens, I opposed this move and presented this objection publicly. The move was unilaterally taken by the majority on City Council without consultation with the citizens and without reasonable explanation. The citizens of the City were effectively disenfranchised and subjected to a time-consuming and capricious decision.”
MR. KAYLIN: “. . . the change in election dates was the signature moment of failed City Council governance. I agree with those who say that the origins of the discussion were well intentioned and were genuinely exploratory. The discussion was, unfortunately, high-jacked.”
MR. PEPPE: “I would have favored a referendum to make sure most people actually wanted the change, though I suspect we might have ended up with the same result given the potential cost savings and greater turnout.”
MR. WEBB: “At the end of the day, I was happy that we changed the elections but I was not happy about the process used to get there.”
So – if Council were voting today to move elections from May to November without benefit of a referendum, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the measure would fail 1-6. Only ex-mayor Gardner (supported by her Facebook friends) would vote “aye.”
But guess what? Tonight, City Council will consider doing a little “housekeeping,” in the words of the Assistant City Manager. The City Charter says elections are held in May, so to be in accord with last January’s resolution, the Charter must be changed to say November. Only the State Legislature can amend the City Charter, so Council action would be in the form of a request to the General Assembly.
That’s interesting: Four Council members are on record as vehemently opposed to the election change, and two more are at least opposed to the process by which it occurred. And now they’re going to ask the state to amend the City Charter?
Here’s a better idea: repeal the resolution that changed elections in the first place. Then let the voters decide in a referendum whether they prefer November over May.
The City Attorney has opined that the Legislature has only provided for municipalities to move their elections from May to November – there’s no language mentioning a move from November to May.
Hey, that’s OK. Think about it: We’ve never had a November City election. So we don’t have to change it BACK – we only need to repeal the resolution before it takes effect in 2011.
The shotgun marriage has not been consummated. Annul it.
(*) If you think the language of my first sentence is excessive, please review the tapes.
By George Southern
September 20, 2010