Culpeper voters get their say on moving town election day
© Virginia News GroupTown of Culpeper voters will get their say in November on moving the month for town elections.
The Culpeper Town Council voted 8-1 at its regular March meeting Tuesday night to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters if elections should remain in May of even-numbered years or switch to November of odd-numbered years.
Resident Jon Russell, who served on the Washougal, Wash. City Council for six years, has been leading the charge to change the election date.
“Thank you for keeping this issue alive and taking this on,” Russell told the council before the vote.
Russell told the council at an earlier meeting that a switch in the election month would save the town about $12,000 every election cycle and also most likely increase the voter turnout from the typical 10 percent to more than 35 percent.
The first motion by the council – to change its charter without voter input – was defeated 5-4. Mayor Chip Coleman and councilmen David Lochridge, Mike Olinger and Billy Yowell supported that motion.
Councilman Dan Boring said he would feel more comfortable giving voters a chance to weigh in and councilman Jim Risner said he believed there were still details to be worked out before a switch could be made. Risner advocated sending the issue back to committee and the town attorney for further review.
“Let's get it right the first time,” he said.
Prior to the council's discussion Town Attorney Martin Crim told the council there were three ways to make the change: a citizen referendum initiated by petition of 10 percent of the voters, the council adopting a new ordinance or changing the town charter which currently provides for May elections.
The latter two methods would have to be approved by the General Assembly at its next session beginning January 2014.
If the voters approve the change in November, it still must pass muster in the General Assembly. However, if the Assembly nixes the change the council could still pass an ordinance after two public readings to switch the election time. The first change would move the scheduled May 2016 election to November 2015.
Lochridge said that information he has received through e-mails and phone calls, by looking at social media sites and through an informal poll in the Culpeper Star-Exponent showed overwhelming support by residents for a change.
“It's interesting that we use phone calls, e-mail and social media (to form an opinion) yet when 10 percent of people vote on something (in a regular election) we don't see it as being as valid,” Risner mused. “I think a voter-initiated referendum is the best way.”
Councilman Ben Phillips said he, too, though it was important to “get voter input in one way or another.”
In the 8-1 final vote, only Risner voted “no.”
At the beginning of the meeting Coleman complimented town staff, specifically Public Works Director Jim Hoy, for fast action in opening roads and cleaning up after last week's 14-inch snowstorm.
Following the meeting Hoy told Culpeper Times it was particularly significant since the department has a number of new employees who had not plowed snow before.
In an unusually long public comment time opening the meeting 11 speakers took to the podium to address the council. Their comments ranged from those by Gladys Williams and former Town Councilman Emma Richards asking the council to financially support the planned expansion to the Culpeper Senior Center to seeking council support for extending Virginia Rail Express service to Culpeper.
During the evening meeting of the board of supervisors, the potential expansion of VRE to the Culpeper area was also mentioned during the public comment period. With over 50 percent of Culpeper's residents commuting to jobs in Northern Virginia, the chance to have a say in where that rail line goes would be an opportunity.
Council also received requests for more details on the Jan. 22 termination of former town Manager Kimberly Alexander and the investigation into actions of Culpeper Police Capt. Chris Settle, reinstated last month by Acting Town Manager Chris Hively after being suspended with pay for several months.
Billy Walter, representing the Culpeper Ruritan Club, also told the council that Culpeper Day on May 4 will feature the first-ever “Culpeper Best Barbecue” competition to be decided by visitors to the event. He passed out flyers noting that the competition will be between Sonny's, Zeke's, the Smokehouse and Culpeper Cattle Company
Although there was no specific mention at Tuesday's meeting, the town council continues to work on its budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 and a search is underway for a new town manager.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is April 9, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors board room.