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Votes

Change in Government?

League of Women Voters to investigate staggering elections, adding police department.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (I-at large) has asked the League of Women Voters to investigate changing the very way Loudoun County does government — a move that detractors call an attempt to hang onto his political power.

On Jan. 10, York requested that the League do an informational survey on three topics: instituting staggered elections for supervisors and School Board members, changing the organizational form of the county government and replacing most of the Sheriff's Office's duties with a police department.

Residents expect the best in schools, recreation facilities and services like Fire and Rescue and law enforcement, York said.

"We will be able to successfully address the needs of the community if we are able to look outside the proverbial box," he said.

Forty-four of Virginia's 96 counties have staggered elections, meaning a supervisors election is held every other year. If staggered elections were instituted in Loudoun, a lottery would determine which districts would have a one-time two-year term before settling into four-year terms.

Staggering elections would not mean adding an election to the calendar — Virginia already holds elections for various officials every year.

"We elect frequently," said Betsy Mayr, president of the Loudoun League of Women Voters.

STAGGERED ELECTIONS would prevent what York called "the pendulum swing" of Loudoun politics.

That swing was what put York in the minority on the board in the 2003 election. Five new Republicans won office that year and began a radical change in governing the county, stripping York of many of his chairmanship duties and putting Loudoun on the track to being named the country's fastest growing county.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who was a one-term incumbent at the time of the Republican takeover, called York's call for investigation "more sour grapes from a loser crowd."

Delgaudio contends that staggered elections would give more voice to "western Loudoun liberals" who lost out in the 2003 election.

"This is not reform," Delgaudio said. "This is York's incumbent-protecting legislation."

Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), elected as a part of the new Republican majority in 2003, likes the swing effect of the current mode of government.

"There's a benefit to being able to change direction when you have a very bad direction you're headed in, for instance the last board," Snow said. "You need to be able to change from a bad policy."

York denied at the League of Women Voters meeting that there was any political bent behind his direction to investigate staggered elections.

"You should not support this because perhaps you support Scott York," he told the League. "This is a community issue. This is a community dialogue we need to have."

The last time the issue of staggering elections was seriously considered was more than a decade ago, when state Sen. William Mims (R-33) was chair of the Loudoun Republicans.

"I have not really thought about it since, because it has not been debated since," Mims said.

Mims added that the General Assembly would permit Loudoun to stagger elections if the board requested the change, but would not impose it.

ADDING A POLICE department would "take the politics out of law enforcement," York said.

A police department would take over most of the Sheriff's duties with the exception of courts and jails. While the police chief is an appointed position, the current sheriff, Steve Simpson, was re-elected in 2003 with 46 percent of the vote in a six-way race.

Simpson, who has served as sheriff since 1996, is currently recovering from hernia surgery and could not be reached for comment.

Snow called the consideration of adding a police department a "vendetta" of York's against Simpson.

"It's only a personal thing," he said.

York denied the allegation.

"I don't have a personal vendetta against the sheriff," he said. "This is about learning what's good with the county ... and the best way to ensure the health and safety of the citizens are met."

York did denounce the way that politics can insinuate their way into law enforcement when an election is at stake. He said officers are sometimes "demoted or forced out" because they didn't vote for the winner in the sheriff's race.

"That's just not right," York said. "These people put their lives on the line for this community."

THE THIRD ISSUE the League of Women Voters will investigate is the organizational form of county government. Seven different forms of county government are approved by Virginia statutes, but 84 counties use the traditional form.

The League will present the findings of its studies to the board, which will then appoint a blue-ribbon panel to consider the League's findings.