State law may prevent special election in May

Published 11:36 am Saturday, January 27, 2018

Following Sheriff Mark Marshall’s announcement Jan. 17 of his resignation effective March 1, several Isle of Wight residents made it very clear to the county’s Board of Supervisors the next day that they would prefer to have a new elected sheriff in office sooner rather than later. As a result, the Board voted 3-2 at their meeting on Thursday to request that a special election be held in May of this year.

However, county staff learned Monday morning that a little-known provision of state law may prohibit them from heeding their constituents’ desire for a quick turnaround. Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson explained that the potential conflict stems from Virginia Code 24.2-682, which states that a special election may not be held 55 days prior to or on the same day as a primary election.

A primary election may take place this spring to choose a Republican candidate to oppose Sen. Tim Kaine in the 2018 mid-term election scheduled for November. To address this potential conflict, the Board has scheduled a special called meeting on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 5 p.m., during which representatives of the county’s Registrar Office and Electoral Board will brief the supervisors on their options.

“I voted for him [Marshall], thinking he would serve his full term,” said Fred Mitchell, one of the speakers at last week’s meeting. “I don’t think it’s right for individuals to take my vote and pass it down the line. I’m asking for a special election in May of this year so a short campaign can happen and the public has a say in who is our sheriff.”

Michelle Billups of Zuni, who serves as the chief voting official in the Zuni precinct, seconded Mitchell’s request for a May election, as did Volpe Boykin of Carrsville.

“Maj. [James] Clarke is qualified and he’s an awesome guy, but he’s not elected,” Boykin said. “They [interim appointees] have too much power to hire, fire and change whatever they wish.”

Clarke is the highest ranking deputy serving under Marshall, and as such would be the one to serve as interim sheriff during the months between Marshall’s resignation date and the day a new elected sheriff would take office. This is mandated by state law, County Attorney Mark Popovich said, and it is not up to Marshall to choose his successor, as some speakers assumed.

Saving the county money is one of the arguments several supervisors made for not heeding citizens’ requests for a special election in May, and instead scheduling it to coincide with the November general election. Popovich said that last year’s general election in November cost the county approximately $30,000, and would likely do so again this November for the mid-term election. If the Board requested a date other than Nov. 6, it would likely cost the county an extra $20,000 to $30,000 to cover administrative costs.

However, Newport District supervisor William McCarty said that he felt the cost to hold a special election sooner than November would pale in comparison to expenses the board had incurred in the past.

“I’ve been inundated with Facebook messages, emails, phone calls, office visits, so the cost for me is not looming,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors, in the past, has spent millions of dollars on property that wasn’t worth $200,000.”

Windsor District supervisor Joel Acree voiced concerns that if the election overlapped with the Town of Smithfield’s council election in May, there might be the perception that Smithfield residents would be the primary voters selecting the county’s new sheriff, but said that he was still ultimately for holding the election as soon as possible.

Carrsville District supervisor Don Rosie said all constituents he had heard from, save one, had been in favor of holding the special election within the next three months.

Another suggestion made was to hold the special election in July, which would occur during a new fiscal year and could be budgeted accordingly. The dissenting votes on the motion to request a May election came from Smithfield District supervisor Dick Grice and Hardy District supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to pass a resolution in opposition to Virginia House Bill 1051, which would allow the state to tax internet streaming services such as Netflix similarly to how cable is currently taxed. They also voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of the Virginia Association of Counties’ opposition to Virginia House Bill 1258 and Senate Bill 4058, which would reduce the authority of the board to impose zoning requirements and hold public hearings on the installation of wireless communications infrastructure such as cell towers.

The final matter on which the board took action concerning the southern end of the county was to unanimously approve a conditional use permit requested by Camptown resident Michael Pittman. The permit allows Pittman to convert a vacant structure located on Lee’s Mill Road that had once been used as a country store into a two-family residential duplex.