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Town Elections Might Move to November

January 27, 2012

By Sherese Gore
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Residents of the Tazewell County towns of Bluefield and Pocahontas would elect their town councils in November instead of May under legislation unanimously approved by the state Senate.

The Senate on Monday voted 40-0 for two bills sponsored by Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell. Senate Bill 149 would amend Bluefield’s town charter and have elections for local officials coincide with state and national elections; SB 142 would do the same for Pocahontas.

The bills now go to the House of Delegates for consideration. The charter changes would take effect with this year’s elections if the measures are passed by the House and signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

SB 149 also would grant the mayor of Bluefield full voting privileges in town council proceedings. Currently the mayor can vote only when there’s a tie.

Bluefield Mayor Donald Harris expressed mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I was in opposition to changing it to November out of consideration or fear that our local elections would become political,” Harris said.

On the other hand, holding local elections in November would have some advantages, such as increasing voter turnout, Harris said. “It would also reduce the cost of holding the election in May.”

The proposed charter amendments would not change how the town councils are organized or how long members serve.

Bluefield would continue to have a five-member town council plus a mayor, with all of the officials elected at large and serving four-year terms.

In Pocahontas, the council would continue to consist of a mayor and four council members, each serving two years.

Bluefield had a population of 5,444 in the 2010 census. With an elevation of 2,389 feet, it bills itself as “Virginia’s tallest town.” Bluefield sits along the Bluestone River that divides Virginia from West Virginia. Across the state line is the town’s sister community, Bluefield, W.Va.

Pocahontas had a population of 389 in the 2010 census.

In the House, Delegate James “Will” Morefield, R-North Tazewell, has submitted a bill to the shift Election Day in another Tazewell County town – Cedar Bluff (population 1,137).

Under House Bill 1251, elections for the mayor and for the six seats on the Cedar Bluff Town Council would change from May to November, beginning this year. The bill was assigned last week to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.