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FairfaxMore changes sought to Vienna Town Council elections

More changes sought to Vienna Town Council elections

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It was a pill they didn’t want to swallow, but Vienna Town Council members approved a resolution Nov. 15 asking the General Assembly next year to alter the town’s election schedule so all Council members’ seats will be up for two-year terms starting in November 2023.

State lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation requiring all Virginia localities that hold May municipal elections to switch them to coincide with November general elections, starting in 2022.

Council members opposed the legislation, which barely passed both houses of the General Assembly, because they said May elections avoided the partisanship of November contests and ensured that those who turned up to vote more likely would be familiar with the candidates and relevant issues.

The new law already required that all members’ terms would be extended by six months to accommodate the switch from May to November elections. The Council’s newly approved request would extend the terms of members elected in 2020 (Mayor Linda Colbert and Council members Charles Anderson, Ed Somers and Ray Brill Jr.) by another year, for a total of 18 more months.

The Council had looked for ways to retain its traditional staggered elections, which ensure some continuity and prevent the Council from turning over all at once, but did not think yearly elections would be fair to candidates running in hotly contested presidential-election years.

“We are non-partisan and we would like to just stay away from that and allow residents to concentrate on town issues,” said Mayor Linda Colbert.

Vienna resident Pennyellen Oszak disagreed, saying that holding elections only on odd-numbered years, as opposed to having some even-numbered ones coinciding with congressional and presidential elections, seemed contrary to the General Assembly’s intention of encouraging more voter turnout.

Some Council members wanted to press the General Assembly to reverse its recently passed law and restore May elections, but others – including Somers, who is a lobbyist – said that outcome was unlikely and might backfire with legislators.

But longtime Council observer Matthew Difiore was all in favor of that idea.

“It seems to me that the town needs to provide the General Assembly with a sense that what they did was absolutely idiotic,” he said.

The Council voted 6-1 in favor of recommending the new election schedule, which would require a town-charter amendment approved by the General Assembly.

The lone holdout was Council member Nisha Patel, who earlier had moved – but did not receive a second – in favor of a similar plan that would have had all Council members running for two-year terms on odd-numbered years starting in 2025.

That plan would have required candidates seeking election in 2022 to run for three-year terms and those running in 2023 to seek two-year terms.

The Council earlier had rejected the idea of having members serve four-year terms.

“I just think it would be hard to recruit people for Council if we had four-year terms,” Anderson said. “It seems like an awfully long commitment.”

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