Lovettsville Council Delays Vote on Charter Changes

The Lovettsville Town Council will take a bit more time to consider revisions to its Town Charter.

A divided council opted for the delay following a Dec. 17 public hearing when several town residents objected to proposed changes and suggested that a voter referendum be held before requesting the General Assembly update the charter.

Vice Mayor Chris Hornbaker is the architect of the charter revisions, arguing Thursday night that it is out of line with the town’s current government structure and contrary to how most other municipal governments operate. The most contentious proposed change is to make the mayor a voting member of the council and to remove the mayor’s veto authority.

Hornbaker said the notion of the mayor serving as an executive branch should have ended when the town hired a full-time town manager in 2005, effectively switching from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager government.

Other proposed changes, such as altering the passages that assume the mayor will be male, have drawn support.

During the public hearing, critics of the proposed changes said they worried council members were seeking to gain power over the mayor and were moving too quickly. 

Kris Consaul presented the council with a letter signed by 50 residents opposing the move of the mayor from the executive branch, opposing the removal of veto power, opposing changing the charter to remove the prohibition of a sitting council member being appointed to fill a vacancy in the mayor’s seat without a special election, and requesting a town referendum to approve any changes.

Frank McDonough said he feared advocates of the changes were pushing a “dark agenda” and pointed to the last time the rarely-used veto power invoked. In that case, a member of the town’s Okoberfest Committee was removed after posting racists remarks on social media. During the height of the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, a majority of council members, including Hornbaker, voted to repoint the man to the committee. In the wake of objections by town residents, Mayor Nate Fontaine vetoed the reappointment.

Hornbaker dismissed the concerns cited by critics. “The updates are based on law and logic,” he said. 

He noted that even former Town Attorney Liz Whiting, a leading expert on Virginia municipal law, had noted the “quirky” elements of Lovettsville’s charter. However, the most recent Town Charter update in 2016 did not address them. He advocated getting the changes to the General Assembly next week so they could be considered during the upcoming session.

Councilmen Buchanan Smith and David Earl said they saw no urgent need to change the charter.

“I don’t see a reason that we have to make a decision on this tonight,” Earl said. “Why are we in such a hurry?” He also said he was open to a voter referendum on any proposed changes.

In response to a question by Smith, Town Attorney Shelby Caputo said there was no legal need to change the charter, but policy or political considerations were valid. “Your charter is sound,” she said, adding the proposed changes would be fine, as well. 

Councilwoman Joy Pritz supported Hornbaker’s motion. She also read an email from Councilman Tony Quintana, who was out of town and did not attend Thursday’s meeting, supporting the changes. 

Councilwoman Renee Edmonston proved to be the swing vote on the issue. She supported taking more time to work though the options, with the goal of settling on a package that would have stronger council support. “I want to see us collaborate more,” she said, expressing hope for an eventual unanimous vote. “It is going to take work.”

Fontaine also supported taking more time to review the changes. He noted that none of the public hearing speakers supported the proposal. 

The motion to table the issue passed 3-2-1, with Hornbaker and Pritz opposed and Quintana absent.

Edmonston said she would propose a new review schedule at the council’s first meeting in January.

One thought on “Lovettsville Council Delays Vote on Charter Changes

  • 2021-12-17 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for this updated news coverage, Loudoun Now. Slowly but surely, the story is coming into focus. I tend to support most of the changes. (Especially getting rid of the sexist language in the Town Charter.) But the jury is still out on removing the mayor from the executive branch & removing their veto power. I was impressed that Mayor Fontaine exercised his veto power in the Oktoberfest Committee flap. Looking forward to reading more about this before finalizing an opinion. Happy Holidays Loudoun!

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