Editor: When the Leesburg Town Council reconvenes Jan. 11-12 to decide on an “interim mayor,” they should be looking to the outside, not the inside, to fill the open seat.
But while Virginia law on succession is complicated, it provides no standards on how to fill a vacant seat. Essentially, it is legal if four of the six sitting councilmembers coalesce around an interim mayor candidate and name that person Jan. 12 to serve until the November 2016 town elections.
So, I agree with Vice Mayor Burk’s statement in “Loudoun Now” (Dec. 28) that picking a sitting councilmember “is not in the town’s best interest” and would necessitate “yet another temporary appointment for the council member’s slot that might be followed by a special election.”
However, Ms. Burk also says it should be a “fair process.” Therefore, on Jan. 12, the council should initiate the same process that was used to find replacements for Ms. Burk and me in 2007 and 2011, respectively, when we left the council for the Board of Supervisors—specifically, allow town residents to apply and then pick a candidate for interim mayor at a subsequent council meeting. The Board of Supervisors used a process like this to fill the Broad Run District seat in September and it worked very well.
In addition, Virginia law allows the vice mayor to be acting mayor for up to 90 days while the council decides the interim slot, and if they cannot agree, the courts can appoint one. I firmly believe Ms. Burk can run one or two meetings until the council chooses among the applicants.
Unfortunately, I sense considerable backroom discussions on who will be interim mayor. I am concerned there are some sitting council members who want it either to give themselves an advantage in running for mayor or council in November, or just to add the “honor” to their résumés. Some may be promising to take the interim slot and not run for the regular mayoral seat in the fall, but no law binds a person from not running for mayor or council. They merely have to submit 125 signatures on petitions by mid-June to be on the November ballot.
These are all bad reasons and, as such, I firmly believe it would be best for the council to pick a non-council member to take this position, particularly a former member of council or a town board or commission, who works in or near Leesburg, has experience running meetings and has some knowledge of town issues. For the record, I am not seeking the interim mayor position, but many residents have asked me to run for it in the fall.
But the last thing the council should be doing is acting behind the scenes, or deciding on an inside candidate to give that person leverage in the elections or something to put on their résumé. It is advisable for the council to review applications and decide soon so it can refocus on the issues that matter—including keeping the government center and courts in Leesburg; improving our business climate; seeking county assistance to fund Leesburg programs, such as the sheriff to help with our growing crime problem and ensuring needed transportation improvements move forward, including a new commuter bus lot for the Rt. 7 area. Too much jockeying by council members on “who will be the next mayor” is not what’s in the public interest.
Ken Reid, Leesburg
[The writer is a former Town Council member and the immediate past Leesburg District supervisor.]