Featured on the Leesburg Town Council’s meeting agenda Tuesday night is a discussion on the appointment of a new mayor, but following a Monday work session it remained unclear how those talks will advance.
With the resignation of Kristen Umstattd – now the Leesburg District representative on the Board of Supervisors – on Dec. 31, the 90-day clock to appoint a mayor has begun. Vice Mayor Kelly Burk served as acting mayor during Monday night’s Town Council work session where the topic of appointing a new mayor was discussed.
Town Attorney Barbara Notar tonight reminded the council members that they have several options for how to proceed. The council may advertise for qualified voters of the town to submit expressions of interest and résumés to be considered for the mayoral post; or it may appoint a current member of the council to serve the duration of Umstattd’s term, which expires Dec. 31. If the council is unable to make an appointment by March 31, when the 90-day clock expires council members may petition the Loudoun County Circuit Court to make the appointment. Notar said in other jurisdictions the Circuit Court has refused to make appointments to government bodies, although she said she was confident that this Circuit Court would if need be.
If a current member of the Town Council is appointed to the mayoral post, it would create a council vacancy. Should council members Katie Sheldon Hammler, David Butler or Tom Dunn be appointed mayor, the council would then need to consider how to fill the council vacancy – most likely by advertising for town voters to submit their interest in the position. However, if Burk or council members Marty Martinez or Suzanne Fox are appointed mayor a special election would be required since their terms do not expire until Dec. 31, 2018. In the former case, a special election would not be held since the general election occurs in the same year in which the council member’s term expires. Hammler, Butler and Dunn are all up for re-election this November.
With all that in mind, a majority of council members seem to be inclined to appoint from within.
“It’s pretty important to me that the person [who is appointed mayor] has the ability to run a meeting and is familiar with that process,” Fox said, “and is someone who has been vetted by the people of the Town of Leesburg and through the election process.”
“We have very experienced council members here who have been serving the town for seven to 11 years. Most of us have served as vice mayor,” Hammler said.
Hammler said if a current council member were to be appointed mayor, she would support filling the remaining council member seat with the fourth-highest vote-getter in the most recent Town Council elections in November 2014. That person was Kevin Wright, who lost his re-election bid to the council.
“It’s a really critical year. We need to look towards those who have a great deal of experience to lead us forward,” she said, noting the forthcoming budget deliberations.
Dunn agreed that the appointed mayor should be from within the current council, but differed with Hammler on the justification for who should be appointed. He pointed out that he was the only current member of the council who has run for the mayor’s seat before, so “non-succeeding votes” for mayor could be considered in who to appoint for mayor if council members wanted to look toward past elections’ vote totals.
Martinez was the lone council member to express support for appointing someone not currently on the council dais to the mayor’s seat.
“I don’t want the mayor’s position to be a political football,” he said.
While not speaking directly to whether he advocated the next mayor to be currently on or off the council, Butler said he believed it was “critical” to fill the mayor’s seat prior to the next set of council meetings.
“We have a number of things that are potential close votes,” he said.
Burk, who in December announced her intention to run for the mayor’s seat in November’s general elections while saying she did not want to be considered for the interim job, may have had the most prescient comment of the night.
“I think this process will be very interesting tomorrow.”