Council Could Move Decision to January 11
With Falls Church Vice Mayor Hal Lippman on a civilian assignment in Afghanistan this month, Mayor Robin Gardner suggested a final vote on whether or not to shift the date of municipal elections in the City of Falls Church might be postponed until next month.
She, and other Council proponents of shifting the election date from May to November, also confirmed they want the change to occur in 2012, and not next year.
The burden to pass an ordinance changing the date was shifted away from a deadline later this month once the mayor and others on the Council conceded that they would not push for switching the date in 2010.
But three of the four Council members who gave preliminary approval of the switch last month remained resolute in their support for the switch at Monday’s City Council work session, despite a large contingent of local citizen activists who spoke out against it, or called for a public referendum.
The fourth Council member who voted to switch the date was Lippman, for the time being out of the country.
“I haven’t heard anything to change my mind,” Councilman Dan Sze, one of the four to give preliminary approval to the switch last month, said after the public hearing Monday. “I know it to be a fact that far more people vote in November than May. That’s the only fact. It is a black-and-white non-issue to me.”
Mayor Gardner and Councilman Dan Maller expressed similar sentiments, notwithstanding their agreement that the switch should commence in 2012, and not 2010.
Although a proponent of a public referendum on the subject, Councilman Lawrence Webb made it clear he favored moving the date from May to November, as well. In response to the question of why this matter is coming before the Council now, he pointed to himself.
Elected for the first time just last May, he said it was to him an obvious question to raise, given the large differential between voter turnout trends in May compared to November.
Councilman David Snyder, an outspoken opponent to shifting the date, was not present at Monday’s work session, although Councilman Nader Baroukh read a written statement from Snyder, who called an impending Council vote “a rush to judgment.”
Among those who spoke during the public hearing against switching the date was former four-term F.C. Mayor Carol DeLong. She said that
“there is more concentration on local issues” in May elections. DeLong served in the 1980s, when there were multiple uncontested elections for City Council in Falls Church that drew barely 10 percent of registered voters.
Ellen Salsbury, president of the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters, also opposed the move, short of further study. She asked why the move was being considered “at this time.”
Local civic activist Barry Buschow suggested a May date draws voters “more educated” on local issues, and former Vice Mayor Marty Merserve said she opposed the process more than the merits of the issue. “There needs to be a public conversation about this,” she said.
But another former Vice Mayor, Dr. Steven Rogers, took a different view. He said he won election to City Council by 32 votes, and four years later, he lost by 16 votes when the highest vote totals in the City, with its 11,400 population, was “1,200 to 1,300 total votes.”
“This doesn’t work,” he said.
Another citizen, a 40-year resident of the City, also supported the switch to November. Patrick David said, “It is an idea whose time has come.”
While Dr. Gordon Theisz and others urged the Council to put them matter to a referendum, Councilman Maller pointed out that the Council cannot “direct that a referendum be held in November.”
That was to say that if a referendum were held at any other time than November, it would undermine the very intent behind the proposed move, and subject its outcome to the same unfavorable low-turnout consequences it is designed to change.
“We don’t need more data about this,” Maller said. “We’ve all been involved in May elections. If you favor greater voter turnout, then you support November elections, end of discussion.”
He added that changing the City Charter is not a bad thing, either. Up until 1973, the Falls Church City charter limited elections to the archaic notion of “freeholders,” until it was finally changed.
Mayor Gardner noted that elections were held in June until 1972 in the City of Falls Church, and their date was changed to May by a majority vote of the Council. “It was not changed by a referendum,” she said.
She said the matter has been studied in Falls Church “since the 2001 study done by the League of Women Voters,” adding, “Not much has changed, no new doors have opened from then to now.”
She also challenged that November elections would somehow become partisan, noting that partisanship could occur in May elections, as well, but never has. She cited 27 Virginia jurisdictions with November local elections, all of which have non-partisan elections.