Haymarket council considers referendum for elections
The Haymarket Town Council is considering whether to put hold a referendum next May that would call for extending the terms of the mayor and six council members from two years to four years starting with the May 2016 election.
Such a move requires three forms of action before the town charter is updated to accommodate that change.
First, a majority of the town council itself has to approve a motion to put the question of changing the town's charter up for a popular vote among town residents.
A vote by council to to adopt an ordinance to put the question on the ballot would likely come in February, according to town clerk Jennifer Preli.
Meanwhile, town officials would be charged with spreading the word to the citizens through emails, social media and other outreach so voters would not be surprised when they see a question on the ballot next May.
"Our goal would be to inform and educate the public that this referendum would be coming about," said town manager Brian Henshaw at the council meeting on Dec. 2.
That would come in lieu of a public hearing, which costs money for the town to advertise in newspapers.
Some public hearings bring out enough speakers to fill the chairs at Town Hall, located at 15000 Washington Street, but it rarely happens.
Council member Rebecca Bare noted the poor attendance record for public hearings at the Dec. 2 meeting.
"We had two public hearings tonight and the applicant wasn't even here, so, you know..." she said.
If the council members do vote to put a referendum on the ballot, the citizens of the Town of Haymarket would then vote on the language themselves May 6, the same day as the general election for the mayoral seat and six town council positions.
Yet even an approval by the citizens would not be the end of it because of Virginia's status as a Dillon Rule state.
According to the Fairfax County government website, "The Dillon Rule narrowly defines the power of local governments. It also states that if there is any reasonable doubt whether a power has been conferred on a local government, then the power has NOT been conferred".
That means Haymarket voters and town council members would technically be asking for the General Assembly in Richmond to update the town charter in 2015 if a majority of residents approved of it in 2014.
However, there is risk involved with opening up the charter to changes by the state legislature.
Delegates and state senators could include language that is not directly requested by the town council, mayor or Haymarket citizens at any point of the legislative process. That would most likely happen at the committee level rather than the floor of the House of Delegates or state Senate given the volume of work the legislature is assigned over a 45-day period from Jan. 14 through Feb. 28, 2015.
Residents instead would have to trust that state Del. Bob Marshall (R-13th) and state Sen. Dick Black (R-13th), arguably the two most conservative members of the state legislature, would work on their behalf to limit changes to the charter based only on the context included in the referendum and block any potential additional changes.
A resolution included in the Dec. 2 agenda packet for the Haymarket Town Council laid out how the election cycles would work in the future, starting in May 2016:
"The person elected mayor and the three candidates for town council receiving the highest number of votes in the May 2016 election shall serve four-year terms. The other three persons elected to town council in May 2016 shall serve two-year terms. Thereafter, all council members shall be elected at the May general election for four-year terms.
"The persons so elected shall qualify and take office on the first day of July following their election. They shall continue to serve until their successors are duly elected, qualified and assume office."