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State law may require the town to hold a special election to fill the last two years of Mike Barber’s term. But it might wait until the general election next year.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Christiansburg voters will likely have a say in filling an upcoming town council vacancy after all.
Having last week said there was no need for a special election to fill the remaining two years of Councilman Mike Barber’s term, and arguing over how best to appoint a replacement, council members said late last week that they need to examine the state laws that control how such terms are filled.
An attorney is scheduled to brief the council at its meeting Tuesday, Christiansburg spokeswoman Becky Wilburn said.
The Virginia Code lays out a process for when an elected official leaves office before the end of a term, and in most cases allows a governing body to appoint someone only until a special election can be held.
Four of the seven council members who could be contacted Thursday said they were not aware of this requirement. Town legal adviser Jim Guynn said he would look into it, and Wilburn said later Thursday that Guynn will present his findings directly to the council.
Barber’s expected move from the council to the mayor’s seat has set off a flurry of suggestions and triggered some confusion. What is clear is that Mayor Richard Ballengee is not running for re-election and Barber is the only candidate on the Nov. 5 ballot. If Barber is elected, he will give up his council seat as he takes the mayor’s position on Jan. 1.
At a meeting earlier this month, with a lawyer present, council members discussed how to appoint someone to fill the remaining two years of Barber’s term. Holding a special election was rejected as too expensive. Automatically appointing the fourth runner-up from November’s five-way race for three council seats also failed to win much support. Council members eventually said they would leave the question of nominating and selecting Barber’s replacement for the council that is elected in November.
Much of the talk centered on trying to have a more public process than the last time council appointed someone to complete a term, in 2006. That appointment was done after closed-door meetings and involved little or no public input.
In recent months, Ballengee had circulated his name as a candidate to complete Barber’s term. But other council members said they would not automatically select him and wanted to avoid the appearance of behind-the-scenes dealing.
On Thursday, the four council members who could be contacted said they did not know about changes in state law since 2006 that require a special election.
“I haven’t heard that,” Councilman Jim Vanhoozier said.
“I’m not aware of anything that requires us to have a special election,” Barber said. Later Thursday, Barber added that after reading more code sections, he still wasn’t sure if the various time frames laid out in state law would necessitate a special election.
Councilmen Henry Showalter and Cord Hall said they wanted to hear more from the town’s legal counsel.
Christiansburg’s charter directs that when a vacancy occurs, council act within 60 days to appoint someone to fill the remainder of a term.
But the Virginia Code lays out a different process, and states specifically that it trumps local charters. The code gives councils 45 days to appoint someone, but that appointment lasts only until a special election can be held.
There are various rules about the scheduling of special elections. But Mark Flynn, longtime attorney for the Virginia Municipal League, said Thursday that he thinks the latest Christiansburg could hold an election to fill Barber’s term would be November 2014, when the special election could be joined to the general election for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives seats.
Montgomery County Voter Registrar Randy Wertz said that if Christiansburg holds a stand-alone special election, the estimated cost to the town will be about $20,000. During a general election, most of the expense — the deploying of election officers — would already be allocated.
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