, 2014

Mayor says Kilmarnock’s new charter
removes needed checks and balances

by Renss Greene

KILMARNOCK—Kilmarnock Mayor Raymond Booth issued a statement this week regarding revisions to the Kilmarnock town charter approved this year by the Virginia General Assembly.

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Booth said the charter changes were “misrepresented to citizens” and “were more an effort to ‘shanghai’ our town government. Still, the changes were portrayed to the press and our citizens by the new majority on council and town staff as merely a needed updating...”

“We are removing an important set of checks and balances by an executive mayor over the legislative body, the council,” stated Booth. “When disproportionate authority rests with one group in our government, such as with the council, staff, or council/staff combined, we are more likely to have abuses and excesses in government structure.”

Of particular concern, according to the statement, is the mayor’s ability to appoint committee members. “Traditionally, under the provisions of the town municipal code, which overrode the charter which was vague on the subject, mayors have made all appointments and this has provided a necessary check-and-balance over council in this area.”

Town code Section 2-62 states: “The mayor shall nominate the members of all council committees and his nomination shall be conclusive unless objection is made by a council member present, in which case the council, if it so determines by vote, shall make such appointment.”

The previous version of the charter, dating to 1952, says in section 5 “the council may appoint such committees of the council [...] as it may see fit.” The updated charter replaces the word “may” with “shall,” and adds “and such subcommittees shall appoint their own chairperson.”

Under Virginia state law, the town’s charter is the definitive statement of its powers, meaning that in the case of a clear conflict of language between the charter and code, the charter takes precedence.

“Every municipality in the state of Virginia has council-manager government, except Richmond,” said council member Rebecca Nunn, who is mentioned by name several times in the mayor’s statement and admits there is “bad blood” between herself and the mayor. “I don’t see any issue there.”

“A bigger issue here is voter nullification,” Booth said. “Three years ago our citizens here in Kilmarnock elected me mayor of this town supporting my policies [...] The council more or less has nullified the votes of the vast majority of our citizens.”

“I don’t think he’s representing the people,” retorts Nunn. “I don’t think he’s ever represented the people.”

Much of the authority given to both the mayor and town manager in the previous charter is now unambiguously given to the town manager, currently Tom Saunders. Booth said, “The town manager is, of course, the head of a town staff who has more aggressively sought to increase its profile in local government during recent years.”

Saunders had no comment regarding that suggestion.

The 1952 charter vested oversight of town employees in both the town manager and mayor; a 1993 resolution by the town council sought to clear that confusion by explicitly stating: “The Town Manager has sole supervisory authority over Kilmarnock’s Employees.” The charter, however, was not updated until this year.

The new charter removes all of the mayor’s authorities except that of presiding over town council meetings and the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote.

“My point is, the charter is law,” Nunn says. “It was passed unanimously by the legislature, it’s been signed by the governor, as of the first of July it was law, so this is all B.S. [sic].”

In his statement, Booth also calls into question whether he will run for mayor again. “At this time I am leaning to running for a council seat where I can still be effective in protecting our citizens from tax increases and reckless spending,” he said.

“I still believe that that oversight is inherent in my office,” Booth said in an interview.

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