Bill calling for recall elections killed

Published 10:10 am Friday, March 2, 2012

By Brad Fulton/Capital news Service

RICHMOND—A House subcommittee Wednesday killed a bill that would have changed the Franklin City Charter to allow for recall elections on City Council members.

Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, introduced Senate Bill 311 at the start of the legislative session. The Senate unanimously approved it on Jan. 23, sending it to the House for consideration.

A subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns voted Wednesday morning to continue SB 311 until next year, effectively killing it for this session.

In early February, the same subcommittee killed two similar measures – House Bill 204, proposed by Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt; and HB 634, sponsored by Delegate Rick Morris, R-Carrollton.

The City Council voted twice in recent weeks, over the objection of Councilmen Don Blythe and Greg McLemore, to offer amendments that might make the legislation more amenable to members of the House subcommittee who expressed concern about the constitutionality of some of the charter changes.

“I feel good about it because I asked for a referendum from day one,” Blythe said of the subcommittee’s decision. “Anytime there’s a change in government like that it should be put to a referendum to give everybody a chance to be heard.”

Councilman Benny Burgess, who originally forwarded the changes to the council from a group of concerned citizens, said he was disappointed.

“I’m really disappointed the citizens’ wishes weren’t followed,” Burgess said. “This was completely brought by them. There was no council involvement.”

Councilman Barry Cheatham agreed with Burgess.

“I’m disappointed that the citizens of Franklin are not granted the same charter privileges that other cities in the Commonwealth have been granted,” Cheatham said. “I still believe in the changes as being both giving the citizens more control of the government and good governance in general. It was a shame the General Assembly doesn’t wish to treat all entities the same.”

The original legislation would have:

• Prohibited council members from interfering with the city manager’s hiring or direction of city employees.

• Outlined the reasons for which a council member would forfeit office, such as failing to pay real estate taxes.

• Established a process for voters to recall the mayor or council members from office before their term is up.

• Prevented a council member from running for mayor while concurrently serving on the council.

Tyler said the changes represented standard revisions for a city charter.

“We were basically just trying to update our charter to reflect the current charters of other cities,” she said.

Dale Liesch, staff writer for The Tidewater News, contributed to this report.