Council opposes party identification bill

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On Monday night, Salem City Council members made it clear that they believe local government is no place for partisan politics.

Mayor Randy Foley led the discussion, before council members unanimously voted to pass a resolution in opposition of a bill by Roanoke County Sen. David Suetterlein, a Republican. His SB 767, which narrowly passed in the General Assembly, would require that local candidates be identified as a Republican or a Democrat on the ballot.

“Our local senator is the one who was the patron for this bill, so I’m frankly pretty disappointed,” Foley said. “I’ve told him that directly, so I’m saying it publicly as well.”

The resolution passed by council asks that Gov. Terry McAuliffe veto the bill. He has until next month to approve or veto the bill. In 2013, Salem City Council members attempted to pass a charter amendment that would require council elections to be nonpartisan, however it did not make it through the General Assembly.

“A few years ago we went to Richmond to fight this,” said Councilman Bill Jones. “The local people who are now on the state level voted against it.

“We attempted to change our charter to prevent this, and now they’re kind of forcing it on us, or trying to,” Foley added. “It passed fairly narrowly in both houses, especially the House of Delegates.”

Council members generally run as independent candidates. All four candidates in the upcoming May election, including incumbents Bill Jones and Jane Johnson, as well as Mark Henrickson and James Martin, are running as independents. Three seats are open for election.

“It’s a bill that would require ballots include party identification for local candidates who are nominated by a political party,” Foley said. “Part of the state code, if someone were to run for local government, even though Democrats or Republicans nominate them, it still does not say R or D on the ballot.”

Foley said that both Sen. Suetterlein and Del. Greg Habeeb, also an area Republican, are backing the bill, stating that the current system is a “transparency issue.”

Also at the meeting, council approved a motion requesting that $500,000 be appropriated from the General Fund balance for capital purchases. In 2015, the transfer of funding from the city to the school system was reduced by $500,000 after a mutually agreed reduction in funding.

“I would like to thank our school board for helping us out with this,” Foley said. “Essentially, they took $500,000 to assist us with these capital items that we needed on the General Fund side.”

The money will be used to purchase various equipment for several departments, including council agenda software, city replaced computers and laptops, a used plow truck and mower, office furnishings for the Salem City Clerk of Circuit Court office, a police car, kitchen renovations in two fire stations, as well as new voting machines. The current special equipment purchases total $472,664. The remainder will go towards reserved capital to be used for additional critical capital purchases.

Absent from the meeting was Salem City Vice Mayor John Givens. The next Salem City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 11.