Charter change would alter voting

The Dumfries Town Council is asking the Virginia General Assembly to change the town charter — a move it hopes will prevent the reoccurrence of problems experienced during last year’s election.

The town’s long tradition of holding non-partisan elections came to a halt in May when for the first time a Democratic slate of candidates was offered. This departure troubled many of the town’s roughly 5,000 residents.

The proposed change to the charter would prohibit partisan elections.

Yet, like the election itself, the proposed charter change is not without controversy.

Woodbridge Delegate John A “Jack” Rollison III, R-52nd District, introduced the bill to change the charter near the opening of the General Assembly session.

The bill was approved Friday by the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns and will move for a vote of the full House of Delegates likely this week.

The day after the bill was pre-filed and a day before it was officially introduced, Rollison received a letter opposing the change.

“Please be advised that there is substantial opposition to the charter change,” wrote Dumfries resident Kevin English.

English, a former two-term Dumfries councilman, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in May. English was part of the Democratic slate that sparked the controversy.

The Dumfries town charter does not prohibit party affiliated candidates so Prince William County election officials accepted the Democratic slate for the ballot.

“We believe that this proposed change to our charter is an attempt by a small group of people to solidify power to the detriment of the town residents,” English wrote in his letter to Rollison.

The group English referred to is the current town council and mayor, he said.

“I think what they are trying to do is ridiculous,” English said. “It restricts freedom.”

The opposition letter is signed by English and 12 others, including two other members of last year’s unsuccessful Democratic slate, former Dumfries mayor Christopher Brown as well as friends and family members of English and Brown.

Last week the Dumfries Town Council reaffirmed its support of the charter change and sent out a letter to all Virginia legislators explaining the circumstances that led to the request.

On behalf of the town council, Dumfries Mayor Melvin “Mel” Bray explained in his letter that the Dumfries Democratic Magisterial Committee held a caucus last spring that resulted in the selection of a slate of candidates for town office.

Despite a high number of Democrats within the town, only four people attended the caucus meetings, the same four that were selected for the slate, Bray wrote.

Additionally, Bray said that none of the town’s elected officials, most of whom describe themselves as Democrats, was informed of the caucus meeting. It was advertised, however, in The Potomac News.

The requirement that candidates gather 125 signatures before being placed on the town ballot was circumvented by the selection of a slate of candidates, Bray wrote.

“Our citizens were quite upset over this bastardization of the process,” he wrote to the legislators.

“It is also our position that the letter that you have in opposition to our charter changes is from some of these same self-elected individuals … and therefore should be suspect as self serving,” Bray wrote.

Bray along with other council members have traveled to Richmond to attend a committee meeting to show their support for the change.

Party politics do not belong in town elections because towns must depend on county, state and federal elected officials for help, Bray said.

“We have to support all of these [party-affiliated elected officials,] and work with them,” he said.

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