In the Town of Purcellville’s last three mayoral elections, Kwasi Fraser has beaten his opponents by an average of 400 votes. Come May, if he decides to run again, he’ll go up against his most experienced challenger yet.
Purcellville native Beverly Chiasson announced Dec. 30 that she plans to run for mayor in the May 5 town elections, 16 years after she stepped down from her seat on the Town Council after 12 years of service. Chiasson, 65, said her decision to run followed three years sitting in on nearly every Town Council meeting and relaying council discussions and votes to residents via her “Purcellville Matters Uncensored” Facebook group. She said her main focus as mayor would be to help get the Town Council back on track doing what she said it’s supposed to do—hear from the town staff which projects and initiatives are most important and decide how the town should spend its money to turn those goals into reality, rather than try to manage the town with minimal staff input.
“We have amazing staff here,” she said. “They know what is needed.”
Chiasson pointed to the Town Council’s June 2018 vote to hire an outside firm to perform an operational audit on the town’s governmental structure—at a cost of nearly $70,000. She said the town could have saved that money simply by relying on its staff, which, she said, would have provided the same information the independent firm turned up.
“We chose not to accept [staff’s input],” she said, adding that while town staffers might not know how certain projects can be funded, they do know which of those projects are most critical.
Chiasson said she feels the Town Council has also rushed votes in recent years, like the November 2017 vote to award a five-year contract to Shaun Alexander Enterprises to manage the Fireman’s Field complex—a partnership that saw heavy modifications when Alexander informed the town he intended to back out of his contract less than eight months later.
Chiasson said those kinds of mistakes happen when the mayor and council members are forced into quick votes to fulfill promises made on the campaign trail. That’s why she isn’t making any.
“I think there’s a lot of initiatives they have done campaign promises on that are hard to fulfill,” she said.
Chiasson said that, while her friends for months have asked her to run for mayor, her decision was sealed during the Dec. 10 Town Council meeting, where she said it seemed like the council was poised to vote on an agreement with Acre Investment Management to permanently place portions of the town’s 189-acre town-owned Aberdeen property in conservation easement as part of a deal to sell nutrient credits to developers—a vote that came just two months after Acre Investment first presented the town with the proposal.
Although the council opted to delay a decision on the venture, Chiasson said she was concerned that the council resolved to take the vote so soon, without conducting more adequate research on the topic, she said.
“I thought, ‘this is how we get in trouble,’” she said. “It was very unclear.”
In addition to rushing into votes, Chiasson said she also feels that the Town Council hasn’t provided residents with enough background on those votes. She pointed to the October 2018 vote to deny a request to annex the 131-acre Warner Brook property as an example. She said that, while the council painted the picture that the vote was for or against growth, it wasn’t that simple. She said the council didn’t clearly articulate to residents what would happen if the town didn’t annex the property—forego more than $10 million in water and sewer connection fees and about $1 million in net annual tax revenues, according to estimates from RCLO Real Estate Advisors.
Chiasson said she started regularly attending council meetings and reporting on them through the “Purcellville Matters Uncensored” group, which now has 1,700 followers, not only because she felt the Town Council wasn’t communicating well with residents. She said her drive to do that also came from her disappointment in the controversy that stemmed from the July 2017 retirement of 24-year town manager Rob Lohr—a retirement many residents feel was the product of pressure from the Town Council—and the investigation into the town police chief, which resulted in the firing of the interim town manager and lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages from the town.
“[That Facebook page] was something I wish I had back in 2016 to understand what is really going on in the town,” she said. “I think it’s healthy for people to understand that when they live in a community where their taxes go.”
If elected mayor, Chiasson said she would continue the Town Council’s work to find a way to achieve structural balance within the town’s water and sewer funds. In the last fiscal year, the water fund decreased by 39 percent and the sewer fund fell by 16 percent, all while the town faces $31 million in sewer debt and a responsibility to fund $21 million worth of water projects.
“We’ve got to concentrate,” Chiasson said. “We don’t have a choice—that’s going to dictate itself because our reserves are going to be depleted.”
Chiasson said she would present both sides of any given topic and would help the Town Council talk through them as a team.
“We’re all in it hopefully for the right reason—to make this town a better place,” she said.
Chiasson said she would also continue posting about the details of each Town Council meeting on her official mayor Facebook page.
“I’m not afraid to post the facts,” she said. “People need to hear. They need to hear what is going on and the truth about their town. … Ignoring an issue is not an option.”
At this point, Chiasson is the only person to announce a run for mayor. Fraser said he still needs to talk with his family before making a decision on a re-election bid by March 3—the last day for candidates to file their candidacy.
If Fraser does throw his name in, it will be his fourth mayoral campaign and the fourth time he’s been challenged for the seat. In 2014, he beat one-term councilman J. Keith Melton, Jr. by 329 votes. In 2016, he beat two-term councilwoman Joan Lehr by 651 votes. And in 2018, he beat Purcellville native Chris Thompson by 221 votes.
In addition to the mayor’s spot, the seats of first-term Councilmen Chris Bledsoe, Ryan Cool and Nedim Ogelman are also up for grabs this May.
Ogelman said he was still undecided. Cool did not comment on whether he would consider running for re-election. Bledsoe has also yet to say.
So far, Mary Lynn Hickey is the only resident not currently on the Town Council to announce a council run.
A seven-year resident and vice president of administration for the News Literacy Project, Hickey said she, too, intends to focus on bolstering the town’s utility funds, help bring the two active lawsuits that total $33.2 million in sought damages to settlement, make decisions instead of defer them and, moreover, actually show up to Town Council meetings and embrace the leadership role she might be elected to serve in. She noted that she’s been to more council meetings recently than some council members.
“If you’ve been elected to do a job, just do it,” she said. “I will show up and fully show up.”
Hickey said she decided to run two years ago, when the report came out detailing the mishandling of the original investigation into the police chief. She said she was “pretty alarmed that the town had slid into what seemed like a new normal.”
“I am choosing to run because I want Purcellville to be better,” she said. “There’s just a better way for this council to conduct itself collectively.”