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Echo Press Editorial: Council loses chance to right a wrong

What should have been a straight-forward process to correct something wrong fell off the rails at the December 22 Alexandria City Council meeting because of one member's misguided contention that he was defending the freedom of "the people."...

What should have been a straight-forward process to correct something wrong fell off the rails at the December 22 Alexandria City Council meeting because of one member’s misguided contention that he was defending the freedom of “the people.”
The council was presented with eight amendments that were unanimously approved by the city’s Charter Commission. The changes would simply make procedures that the council has been doing for years become an official part of the city’s charter.
Rightly so, changing the charter is a rigorous process that begins with a unanimous vote from the council. Ward 1 council member Virgil Batesole didn’t even let two amendments get that far. He voted against a change that would allow council members and the mayor to serve four-year terms, something that’s been happening for 18 years.
Back in 1996, the council approved a resolution to allow the longer terms so the city would be compliant with new state laws that required council members to serve four-year terms and mayors to serve two or four-year terms. The city’s charter only calls for two-year terms. Unfortunately, the council didn’t follow the correct procedures for amending the charter in 1996.
The latest amendment was a first step in correcting that, yet Batesole voted no. He claimed that this was too serious a matter for the council to change without going to the people. This ignores the fact that over the past two decades, there has been no groundswell of people speaking out against the longer terms, or writing letters about it, or raising it as an issue in political campaigns, or blasting the decision during the public comment periods of council meetings. There hasn’t been a peep.
His no vote also ignores the fact that by approving the change, the council would be allowing the public to express any reservations about it by calling for a reverse referendum.
Batesole also voted against something as innocuous as updating the preferred document that governs council meetings. The charter requires using an outdated Robert’s Rules of Order. An amendment would have simply allowed the council to use the latest Robert’s Rules or “alternate rules of procedure” that would be voted on at the start of the year.
Batesole called the amendment a “railroad job” that would somehow be unfair to new members by making them vote on the rules shortly after taking office. When he was reminded that the vote on the new rules wouldn’t take place until January 2016, nearly a year after new council members take office, Batesole still voted no.
Later Batesole lauded his own decisions, saying that it “took guts” to do what he did in the name of freedom. While Batesole may mean well, what he did wasn’t courage. It was obstructionism.
Our hope is that it will not detract the future work of the Charter Commission. For 10 months, it’s been studying all aspects of the charter for inconsistencies, antiquated language and restrictive procedures that hinder the council’s ability to best serve the people who put them into office. It will be presenting more amendments down the road. The first set of recommendations was supposed to be non-controversial “low-hanging fruit.” Unfortunately, because of the misguided “no” votes, two of those amendments spoiled on the vine.

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The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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