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Recall petitions explored

Published 11:07am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BY STEPHEN H. COWLES/STAFF WRITER
Playback58@gmail.com

FRANKLIN—Anger and dissatisfaction about some elected officials in both Franklin and Isle of Wight County have triggered public demand for what’s popularly being termed recall elections.

In Franklin, a group calling itself the Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills is upset that Franklin City Council and staff have not done enough to address what they perceive as an inequality in electric bills.

“At the moment, we’re still discussing the matter, but it’s something we’re looking forward to implementing,” said Linwood Johnson, group spokesman. “Certainly the electric bills are a devastating problem. It’s a dreadful situation on the poor, needy and middle class. It’s time for a total upgrade in the system.”

Though he didn’t have names as yet, Johnson confirmed the group is also looking at candidates to replace Mary Hilliard of Ward 5 and Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn. He added that if councilmen Greg McLemore and Don Blythe don’t run, the Concerned Citizens group would also seek candidates for those seats.

“I have much respect for Mr. Blythe,” Johnson said about the councilman who suffered a stroke last October. “He was doing an excellent job. If he were there, he’d be helping us.”

The spokesman thinks that recall elections, which he’s advocated, would not only give the people more voice in their government, but also keep elected officials mindful of who they represent.

“We do not have a recall provision in our city charter,” said Franklin Registrar Jennifer Maynard. She referenced past failed attempts to get the charter amended through the Virginia General Assembly.

A petition to the circuit court would not be enough, Maynard said, pointing to state code, which offers some guidelines for removing a person from office. Criminal activity or being proved mentally incompetent or incapacitated are established grounds for removal from office. Proven neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence in performance are other qualifications.

For more information on state code, go to http://leg1.state.va.us. See 24.2-230-325 for more details.

Isle of Wight NAACP President Dottie Harris has stated repeatedly in the past that if Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey and School Board member Herb DeGroft do not resign, she would take action to have the men removed from office by a recall election.

Both officials are at the center of a controversy that began May 16. Harris gave the Board of Supervisors copies of emails containing crude humor, emails the two men circulated privately with other board members and staff on personal email accounts. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are the subjects of several emails. Those pages ultimately came to Harris from an anonymous source.

Both Bailey and DeGroft have repeatedly apologized. Members of their respective boards have called on the two to resign, but they remain steadfast so far.

Isle of Wight Registrar Lisa Betterton, who’s been in office for more than six years, said she could not remember any recall elections in the county.

But to do so, Betterton said, “A person must first get a petition signed by registered voters equal to 10 percent of the turnout for that particular office for that particular election.”

She added that the only thing her office could do is offer as a courtesy to certify the signatures as registered voters.

Isle of Wight Clerk of Court Sharon Jones confirmed that a recall election in the county would be a first. The term as it’s being used lately is something of a misnomer since neither men have done anything legally wrong. She referred to the aforementioned state code.

“What they did doesn’t fall under the code,” Jones said.

If Bailey or DeGroft don’t resign, she added, a petition would be taken to the circuit court and filed immediately. A civil filing, Jones said, typically costs $86.

Within a day, a judge can have a hearing. Such an instance would take precedence over anything else happening in circuit court.

“If the judge orders a position vacant, then a special election can be held depending on its time to a regular election,” she said.

In Southampton County, there’s been no demand to recall any elected official.

Registrar Peggy Davis said she couldn’t remember there’s ever been such an event in her time of service.

“I don’t recall any right offhand,” said her predecessor, Leona Davis (no relation), who served as registrar for 18 years, and assistant registrar for five years beforehand.

Richard Railey Jr., attorney for the county, also said state code — 24.2-233, for example — could be applied if such an instance happened in Southampton County.

Railey also could not recall ever seeing a supervisor in Virginia being recalled through an election.

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