The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Business (Almost) Trumps Democracy in Elkton

This post was submitted by DFE:

The Daily News-Record does its best to cover all the nuances in the continuing circus that is the Elkton Town Council business, but yesterday, it missed the big brass ring.The Council bloc held that Monday's meeting was a public hearing. Nathan Miller, the town's attorney, said he wasn't sure that one was required in order to make Charter revisions, but wanted to err on the side of caution, before Steve Landes and Emmett Hanger could bring the Town Charter revisions before the legislature.

The Mayor, who brought his own lawyer to provide third-party oversight, disagreed because the public hearing had never been called for. The DN-R reported that the same citizens got up to ask the same questions as before, and got the same old answers. But there was a lot more going on than that. The proposed Charter that was published in the paper is not the Charter that is in Richmond awaiting submission to the state legislature.

Those differences raise a lot of questions about exactly what powers the Council plans to reserve for itself (This might sound dumb, but consider: according to the proposed Charter, a vote from only two-thirds of the Council is required to change the Charter from now on, but really, only the state legislature can change a municipality's charter ). This was brought up by the mayor's lawyer in the state code book. You would think the town's attorney, a former legislator, would have found the same passage.

Also, for example, the DN-R version puts all power in the hands of the Council, making the mayor a ceremonial office. The version in Richmond says nothing about the Council's powers and perogatives. All of this can be tossed out as nit picking, but the issues, like a strings wound into a complicated knot and once teased out, all point to a disturbing power-grab that, itself, may very well not be legal (I'm not a lawyer, so I can't judge it.) Consider this: the town attorney explained last night that the version of the charter currently in Richmond is a place holder for a finished, yet-to-be-negotiated document. He said that this happens all the time in Richmond--you have to put something in just to get on the agenda, and it doesn't really matter what's in the document until it comes up for a vote.

However, the mayor's attorney explained that this is true for laws, laws upon which different committees conference, ironing out the differences. Town charters, as the mayor's lawyer noted from the state code book, being permanent statements of a municipality's powers, are different. They have to be finished, published in the locality, subject to public hearings, commentary and amendment all in advance of being submitted. That's why a town has a whole year to work on it, to get it right before it goes to the state.

I tend to think that the mayor's lawyer must be right on this. How can the public agree to changes in its charter if it's a working document up to the last minute before it goes to vote?Trying to change town charters--their constitutions--in this way is like "Dumb and Dumber writing the laws." Who is writing this durned thing, anyway? And why does nobody seem to have "the real copy" in hand?

But here's the trump card. Here's the thing that all the smoke and mirrors is designed to conceal. The third provision of the document, buried at the very end. The charter revisions, whatever they might be, are supposed to take effect July 1st, unless an emergency exists that would make it necessary for the revisions to take effect sooner. But Part 3 declares that if an emergency does, indeed, exist, and the charter would take effect immediately. What does this mean? It cancels the May elections!

Councilmen whose terms expire keep their seats for over two more years. It ensures that Council members who were appointed to fill vacant seats don't have to run for their seats in the next election cycle. For instance, Lucky Sigafoose, who was elected by a wide majority, died and his seat was taken by Clyde McDaniel who, it's safe to say, votes exactly opposite of the way Lucky tended to vote about 95% of the time. The voters who put Lucky into office because they agreed with his philosophy are shut out of the chance to put a like-minded replacement in his seat for 4 years, or, with the elections cancelled, even longer than that.

When this came up in the meeting the other night, everyone on Council (who, we assume, wrote the Charter and who are up for election) was shocked, and declared that they never intended such a thing and there would certainly be elections in May. But, somehow, I wonder? If this had slipped through, as the Council had intended that no version of the Charter document was ever to be made public before it went in front of the legislature and signed by the governor, and would have if the mayor had not raised a stink, would they not have declared an emegency because of the on going Angler talks and the millions of dollars (and a golf course) at stake? It is, indeed, a case of business almost trumping democracy, but I applaude the efforts of a few vigilant citizens! Long live democracy in Elkton!


  • At 2/01/2006 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good post, I don't live in Elkton, but this seems like one confused little town. Best of luck.

  • At 2/01/2006 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Were you at the "illegal" Public Hearing Monday night Will? From your posting it sounds like you might have been sitting right beside me, because we're seeing things EXACTLY alike! And -- I've learned that seeing for yourself by attending the meetings is always better than relying on second-hand info. Thank you for providing this forum for the hopeful "enlightenment" of your readers. One suggestion -- is there a way to post the date along with the time in the thread as a comment hits the screen? It might make for better cohesion.

  • At 2/01/2006 8:12 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Actually, this post was submitted by DFE, who contributed this piece for the blog. I realized in my orginial piece, that (since I don't live in Elkton) that indeed my comments/analysis were soley based upon what I read (more or less) in the DNR. I tried connecting the dots, but I soon found out I'm not close enough to this particular issue to take a principled stand. Therefore, I turned all discussions on this subject to the folks who know it the best, that being people who live in or near Elkton (hence, DFE e-mailed me and submitted this piece)

    So anyone who would like to do the same is welcome to send me a piece, as long as it fits the criteria I outlined below in the last post..

  • At 2/01/2006 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    About posting the date along with the time... that is a really good idea. In fact when you preview a post, it shows the date, but when you publish, the date disappears. The time alone makes it confusing.

  • At 2/02/2006 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oops! My apologies to DFE! In re-reading the original posting, I realized my error after posting my own comment. DFE -- YOU must have been breathing the same air I was Monday night. Thanks for clearing up some issues for the Blog readers. I learned some years ago not to trust the DNR or Valley Banner for the "truth". Many times I've read an article and stated out loud -- "That's NOT what happened! And, I know 'cuz I was there!!!" Just a way for the papers to perpetuate a storyline I suppose.

  • At 2/02/2006 2:55 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    In case Elkton didn't have enough problems, did you see that Elkton is paying loads of cash in legal fees above in beyond what has been budgeted? If I recall they were 50,000 grrr over budget last year, and expecting to be over budget this year too. Geez, the good news doesn't stop...

  • At 3/02/2006 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    DFE has written the most comprehensive and accurate account of the Public Meeting,regarding the Proposed Town Charter. Those of us who attended were informed of the true meaning of the intricate weavings of deceit in this Charter. Thanks to the Mayor's Attorney, Tom Miller, and various citizens of Elkton who spoke against the Charter, we were able to comprehend what a dreadful, bogus snow job was being forced through by most of the members of the Town Council, and our unelected Town Manager. We applaud every person who attended this meeting and let their thoughts be known regarding this atrocious Charter, which benefits only the Town Council, and not the residents of Elkton. Maybe some day the Daily News Record will send a reporter who will do a full story of our Public Town Meetings, and not just a short blurb which does not do justice to what actually happened at the meeting.

    Thanks DFE. The grey haired old ladies and gentlemen who are so derisively depicted in several blogs thank you profusely. God bless you. We dearly love our Town and want what is in the best interests of ALL our citizens and their children who must live with the consequenses of whatever disastrous decisions are made by self-serving officials currently on our Town Council. This Town deserves better!!!


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