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Staggering The Board

CUMBERLAND – Staggered terms will have to wait a while longer for Cumberland County.

After the County Attorney provided information during a work session in February, the Board of Supervisors couldn't agree on the route to take, either by ordinance or a referendum, and so the idea of staggering the election terms of the County's supervisors is at a standstill.

But even though this Board cannot come to a consensus, Supervisor Tim Kennell, District Two, still brought the discussion back to the table during the comment segment of the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 8.

“The term 'staggered terms' came up and we had…what I thought was a rather confusing vote,” said Kennell about the votes that were taken during the called meeting on February 17. “One introducing as an ordinance to proceed with staggered terms. Another going forward with a referendum for staggered terms and my personal confusion lie(s) with the referendum and…as I understand it and as I understood the referendum and the vote on the ordinance it was my desire to bring this staggered term to a conclusion either by ordinance or as proposed by referendum…I was understanding…that this staggered term motion would go into effect in this upcoming election in November and I stand corrected, I believe. By ordinance, that could have happened. By referendum, we would not have made that date in order to have a public vote for staggered terms in this coming November election.”

The referendum option would have put the vote off until the 2014 election cycle, according to Cumberland's County Attorney Howard Estes.

So, according to Kennell, he opposed that option.

“What I suggest tonight or what I'm asking…that we reconsider a staggered term by means of referendum going forward into the next election cycle…,” said Kennell.

At that point, Chairman Van Petty, District Three, requested that Estes, again, explain the referendum procedure.

For the referendum on the staggered election, Estes said signatures of 10 percent of the voting age population would have needed to be collected in a 'timely fashion' in order for it to be placed on the ballot for this November.

“If the signatures were collected and you had enough signatures collected, the referendum would have been held three years from this election cycle,” explained Estes. “It's held one year prior to the next general election. Doing it by referendum would only effect the next general election. It would not have been made to be in place for this coming November.”

Kennell responded, “I'm certain that wasn't made clear in our meeting the other day…So, what I ask is that there is an agreement so that this incoming board can make this decision after the election to move forward with staggered terms…”

If the Board had agreed to go forward with the idea by the adoption of an ordinance then staggered terms could have been effective for this November election, Estes noted.

“That's what I was trying to accomplish,” advised Supervisor Bobby Oertel, District Five. “But, I didn't get anywhere with it.”

Chairman Petty reminded them of an issue that had been voiced by a few related to pre-clearance with redistricting.”

“We've got to get the redistricting cleared by the Justice Department and staggered terms would have also had to have been pre-cleared by the Justice Department,” he reminded.

Any change of voting in Virginia has to be authorized by the Department of Justice for pre-clearance, according to Estes.

“They have provided a minimum of 60 days for any change in voting,” he said. “I mentioned to the Redistricting Committee that staggered terms is actually one factor that is looked at for…minority voting. There are court cases at the district level…as a way to suppress minority voting…”

Supervisor Elbert Womack, District Four, explained that he “made his decision” based on the advice received from the County Attorney.

“Throwing these two things on the Justice Department at the same time could have the wrong kind of effect-right or wrong,” he said.

Estes continued, “To complicate it, you could have one get approved and get the other one amended or have further action on it and it may create a delay situation.”

Called Meeting Votes

During the called meeting on February 17, where the purpose of the meeting was to continue working on the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget for the County, two votes were taken on staggered terms.

The first vote was taken after a motion was made by Chairman Petty to set a referendum and let citizens of Cumberland decide whether to initiate staggered terms of the Board of Supervisors.

The motion was defeated as follows: Supervisor Osl abstained; Chairman Petty and Supervisor Womack voted in favor and Supervisors Kennell and Oertel voted against this option.

Shortly afterwards, another vote was taken, to proceed with a public hearing to adopt an ordinance initiating staggered terms of the Board of Supervisors. That motion was made by Supervisor Oertel and was defeated as follows: Supervisor Osl abstained; Chairman Petty and Supervisor Womack voted in opposition and Supervisors Oertel and Kennell voted in favor.