F.C. Council Moves Ahead to Shift Elections from May to November

Final Approval Pushed to Early January Vote

While the Falls Church City Council backed away from giving final approval to a measure changing the month for holding municipal elections from May to November Monday night, it did act with an eye to finalizing the shift early next month.

In what has become yet another highly-contentious issue in the governance of the City of Falls Church, four votes on the subject at Monday’s meeting revealed, again, a deep and emotionally-driven division on the Council.

With two Council members absent, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman being in Afghanistan and Councilman David Snyder also out of the country, Mayor Robin Gardner led series of slim majority votes, two to eschew a public referendum on the subject, and two to proceed toward making the shift to commence either in 2011 or in 2013.

With Lippman and Snyder expected to be back for the Council’s next meeting on January 11, however, the same 4-3 vote margin as last month’s to preliminarily OK the shift is expected to repeat.

Still, opponents to the shift apparently remain far from resigned to that outcome. The News-Press learned yesterday that former Falls Church Vice Mayor Sam Mabry invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain all records pertaining to communications on the subject of the election switch dating back to last summer.

Mabry returned a call to the News-Press last night from his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, and confirmed he’d FOIA’d City Hall, but only forĀ  records of communications involving Mayor Gardner and Vice Mayor Lippman.

He said if there turns out to be anything “pertinent” in what he finds relevant to possible motives other than those stated in public by the two, he will “make sure it is made public.”

Mabry, who left the Council four years ago, was interviewed by the Washington Post for an article on the election issue that appeared this Monday despite having no public involvement in the matter short of a letter to the editor in the News-Press. He intimated to the News-Press last night that there is on-going “talk” about the need to further “unravel the difference between state law and the City charter.”

Mayor Gardner, in comments to the News-Press yesterday, stressed that her votes to shift the election from May to November are aimed at increasing voter participation, citing the conclusive evidence that turnouts of the City’s registered voters are routinely far higher in November elections than in May.

“The City’s charter stipulates that it is the role of the City Council to do all it can to facilitate the exercise of the rights of our citizens,” she said, “and that’s what we have voted to do.”

She added that it is the Council’s “obligation to rule on matters of policy,” and not to hand off such obligations to a public referendum and a “not inconsequential cost to taxpayers.”

One game of policy ping-pong involved in the issue on Council has involved the year in which the transition will occur. When the matter was first broached by first-year Councilman Lawrence Webb this fall, the impulse was to act before Dec. 31 to make the shift apply to the coming 2010 elections.

But to avoid the accusations of some that moving it to next year would extend the terms of Councilmen due for election next May, last week Mayor Gardner proposed making 2012 the year of the switch.

However, at this Monday’s meeting, the discussion changed to making the switch either in 2011 or 2013, being that odd-year elections would not involve federal elections, but only Virginia legislative ones.

Therefore, when the votes were finally taken after 10 p.m. Monday, the shorthanded Council voted 3-2 to give a preliminary OK to shifting the date in 2011, and another 3-2 vote to give a preliminary OK to shifting it in 2013.

Voting for the 2011 date were Gardner, Councilman Dan Sze and Councilman Dan Maller. Voting for the 2013 date were Maller, Sze and Webb.

This came after a proposed resolution calling for further study and a public referendum offered by Webb failed by a 3-2 vote, with only Webb and Councilman Nader Baroukh voting yes, and a second resolution offered by Baroukh calling for an emergency referendum failed after the motion was made by Baroukh for lack of a second.