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F.C. Council Mulls an Undo of Vote on May to November Election Shift

Topic to Arise at This Weekend’s Council Retreat

A majority on the Falls Church City Council at its work session Monday night began the process of undoing the vote taken in January to shift the date of municipal elections in the City from May to November. The 4-3 vote last January was seen by its backers as a way of ensuring a significantly higher level of voter participation in the City’s elections and was subsequently approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Topic to Arise at This Weekend’s Council Retreat

A majority on the Falls Church City Council at its work session Monday night began the process of undoing the vote taken in January to shift the date of municipal elections in the City from May to November. The 4-3 vote last January was seen by its backers as a way of ensuring a significantly higher level of voter participation in the City’s elections and was subsequently approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, following the major shakeup in the makeup of the Council in last May’s election (with its 22 percent voter turnout), the newly-constituted Council has wasted little time in launching its second “undo” of the actions of its predecessors.

The first was to kill the senior affordable housing projects approved by the previous Council last March by a 6-1 vote.

Monday night’s comments from the four of the five Council members present indicated that, instead of completing the process of shifting the elections to November by obtaining a “housekeeping” charter change approved by the state legislature in Richmond in January, the process will be interrupted pending a public referendum that would not be held before January.

The Council is expected to discuss the matter at length during its two-day so-called “retreat” slated for the library at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Friday night and Saturday during the day. The sessions, which will be open to the public (but with no provision for public input), are slated to run from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. They will not be televised or videotaped.

Opponents to the election date shift last January, including the current mayor, Nader Baroukh, and vice mayor, David Snyder, also called for a referendum at that time, a suggestion that was opposed by the then-Council majority because it, too, would suffer from the same low voter turnout that the move was designed to remedy. Just as the appeal for a referendum was seen by many as a tactic to prevent the shift in the election date last January, so do the new Council’s plans invite the same concern.

Many among those who opposed the change last January stated openly that a de facto voter litmus test, if nothing more than the suggestion that those who bother to vote in a May election are more informed on City matters, was appropriate.

However, it was pointed out that any such suggestions are in violation of the spirit and letter of the U.S. Constitution, and would probably be determined as such if the U.S. Justice Department is brought back in a second time to bless a reversal of the Council’s earlier action.

In addition, the undoing of last January’s vote to switch, if supported by any sitting Council member whose terms of service would be altered thereby, would be subject to allegations of a direct conflict of interest.

Of those on the new post-July 1 Council, former mayor Gardner is the only remaining member among the four who voted to make the switch in January. Of the other three supporters, Dan Maller chose not to seek re-election, Dan Sze failed to win the re-nomination of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) candidate vetting organization and therefore chose not to run, and former vice mayor Hal Lippman lost in the May election, garnering the lowest vote total among all the candidates. Gardner’s seat was not up for re-election, but she was bumped from her role as mayor by a vote of the new Council on July 1 after serving four years.

No action on the matter of the election date was taken at Monday”s work session, and no clear delineation of a next step was spelled out, as the Council has until November to put together its list of requested actions to forward to the state legislature for its next session in January 2011.

However, the matter will undoubtedly come up at the retreat this weekend. The agenda for the two days includes a “Survey of the National Capital Region Marketplace” by John MacLain of George Mason University on Saturday.

The retreat will open Friday with report on the City’s financial condition, followed by a report of the Council’s Budget Committee, and reports and discussion of school and general government facilities. There will also be reports from the Council/School Board Liaison Committee and Government Operations Committee.

Saturday, in addition to MacLain’s presentation, topics will include a report from the Council’s Economic Development Committee, a discussion of land use and planning tools for economic development, a discussion of financial incentives with the City’s Economic Development Authority, and a discussion of the City’s two-year Economic Development Work Plan.

 

 

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