While the first quarter of 2016 will bring important votes on the expansion of the Loudoun County court complex and next year’s budget, the most difficult decision tasked to the Leesburg Town Council may be who will occupy the center seat of the council dais.
In a 24-hour flurry of activity that kicked off Monday morning and was, at least for the moment, resolved Tuesday, the Town Council called a special meeting for Monday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. for the stated purpose of appointing a new mayor. The meeting will be held in Town Hall Council Chambers.
The town’s top post remains vacant. Vice Mayor Kelly Burk is serving as acting mayor, following Kristen Umstattd’s election in November as the Leesburg District representative to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
Umstattd’s term expires Dec. 31, and whomever the council selects will serve the remainder of the term. The council initially scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Feb. 3, with council members David Butler and Suzanne Fox calling for the meeting, but it was changed because Burk and Councilman Marty Martinez said they couldn’t make it.
“This should have happened already,” Butler said of the special meeting.
Frustration among council members reached by phone this week was evident. It was almost one month ago when the six sitting members of the council failed to appoint someone to fill the mayor’s seat. With the majority indicating an interest in appointing someone currently on the council, none of the council members put forward for appointment received the necessary four votes. Plus, Martinez failed to gain enough support for his motion to advertise for interested Leesburg voters to apply to be appointed for the mayor’s seat.
This week, Burk said she would also like someone from the public to be selected for the seat. The vice mayor announced in December plans to run for mayor in November’s general election, joining former council member Kevin Wright (see article, Page 10), but has said she does not want to be appointed for the remainder of Umstattd’s term. More than anything, Burk said she hopes that next week’s special meeting will resolve who will serve as mayor for the remainder of the year.
“Ideally, I would like us to go to the meeting knowing what we’re going to do, knowing we’re going to select so-and-so and move on,” she said. “There’s too much politics going on, all this stuff behind the scenes, the deal making, I don’t think it’s to the benefit of the town. The cleanest way to do it is to pick someone from the public and move on to elections.”
Butler pointed to the “significant issues” coming up, including votes on the courthouse expansion, the Crescent Parke land development application, and the budget process that is expected to kick off at the end of the month.
“We need to have seven people on the council; it’s the only fair thing for constituents,” he said.
Rumored to have interest himself in seeking the mayor’s post come November, Butler said this week “of course it’s something I’m thinking about,” but said the priority right now is selecting someone to fill out the term.
“The number one thing we have to do is get seven people on council and get council business done,” he said. “Then we can start to think about November.”
Fox said she still would prefer to appoint someone to the mayor’s seat with council experience. She also pointed to the need for seven voices—and votes—when it comes to the town’s budget. The town tax rate, for example, needs a supermajority of the council, or five votes, to be adopted.
“I feel that there needs to be seven members on the council in order to take care of the budget process in the way it needs to be taken care of. That’s the bottom line for me,” she said. “We owe it to the citizens of the town to make sure the process is intact.”
If a current council member is selected to serve as Leesburg’s next mayor, another vote will be necessary—one appointing a resident to fill the newly empty council seat.