WINCHESTER — The Democrat majority on City Council is pushing for a set of proposed operating bylaws that have been in the works for more than two years.
Council Republicans are pushing back, saying the bylaws are bloated, redundant and contain sections that contradict City Code.
"I don't see how this can be approved as is," Republican Councilor Les Veach said at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
"I'm not sure I'm ever going to support it," added fellow Republican council member John Willingham.
Republican Councilor Corey Sullivan spent several minutes dissecting the 28-page document and pointing out what he thought were flaws.
Sullivan said the proposed bylaws are too broad, lack clarity and overreach when laying out policies for council procedures and the conduct of its members.
"We're not pledging a fraternity or something like that where the rules have to be specified all the time," he said.
Sullivan protested sections that stated Winchester's city manager should open and review all written correspondence to City Council ("Is that legal?") and be copied on all citizen requests submitted to council members ("Some of those requests are private.").
He also said a proposed rule prohibiting council members from talking with the media about issues discussed in executive session could not be enforced.
"There is nothing in State Code that prohibits leaking information," Sullivan said. "I do not support this as presented."
Democrat Councilor Judy McKiernan said the proposed bylaws "is a healthy document ... however, Corey brought up some very serious points."
Democrat Councilor Kim Herbstritt agreed.
"I think it's important this gets taken care of and finalized and forwarded," she said.
Even though the nine-member council's four Republicans had objections, Democrat Mayor and council President David Smith said, "It seems we're all on the same page that we do want bylaws."
Smith has been the driving force behind what would be City Council's first-ever set of bylaws. He made a motion to draft the bylaws on June 13, 2017, and worked to create them with then-councilor Milt McInturff.
In April 2018, McInturff said he had been cut out of the process by Smith and threatened to go to court to block adoption of the bylaws because they did not address suggestions and concerns from council members and then-city attorney Anthony Williams. The issue then went dormant, and McInturff lost his bid for re-election in November.
The bylaws resurfaced at council's June 4 meeting and were forwarded for further discussion on a 7-2 vote with Willingham and fellow Republican Councilor Bill Wiley voting against.
On Tuesday, Wiley said the proposed bylaws should be reviewed by an attorney before council makes its final decision. However, it is unclear if that will happen.
In a party line vote, City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to table the bylaws for two weeks. During the hiatus, Smith is expected to appoint an ad hoc committee comprised of council members to review and amend the document.
The revised bylaws are then expected to be on the June 25 agenda for a final vote. Veach said it would take a super majority of council — three-fourths of its members — to approve the document.
In other business at Tuesday night's meeting and work session, City Council:
- Unanimously approved an easement to allow CSX to build a new railroad crossing for the city’s forthcoming Hope Drive extension project.
- Unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of three properties needed for the Hope Drive extension and a related sidewalk and drainage improvement project.
- Voted 5-3 to forward a Winchester School Board request to reduce its size from nine to seven members. Sullivan, Veach and Vice Mayor John Hill opposed the measure, and McKiernan, an employee of Winchester Public Schools, abstained.
- Held a public hearing in which no one spoke on the nomination of Elyus Wallace for a vacant Ward 3 seat on the School Board. A vote on Wallace's appointment to the board is scheduled for June 25.
- Gave unanimous consensus for the city to conduct an online survey to hear how residents want to proceed with Winchester's recycling program. On July 15, Southern Scrap Inc. will stop accepting all plastics and cans from the city. This follows the company's decision in January to stop accepting glass and most plastics.
- Heard a presentation from city arborist Jennifer Jenkins about the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that has migrated to Winchester and Frederick County. To limit the spread of the insect, the city and county were recently placed under quarantine by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Community Services.
- Unanimously approved conditional-use permits allowing Stephen Von Fange to convert a one-story commercial building at 501 N. Cameron St. into a two-story structure with a pair of one-bedroom apartments, and make major improvements to a neighboring two-story apartment building at 505-507 N. Cameron St.
- Unanimously authorized City Manager Eden Freeman to execute a memorandum of agreement between Winchester and the Northwestern Community Services Board to partner in a Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center being established at Winchester Medical Center.
- Held a first reading on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit roadside panhandling by making it illegal in most circumstances for pedestrians to interfere with passing traffic.
- Unanimously agreed to forward a proposed refund of $6,965.87 in overpaid Business, Professional and Occupational taxes.
- Unanimously agreed to forward the issuance of city funds that would allow work to start on the school system's Shihadeh Innovation Center and new Central Administrative Office, as well as several city improvement projects. Any money spent will be reimbursed by $16.5 million in bond issuances this fall.
- Unanimously agreed to forward acceptance of $435,600 in Federal Transit Administration funds, as well as $209,986 in Virginia Department of Rails and Public Transportation funds, for operation of the Winchester Transit system.
- Received the city's 2018 annual performance report from Winchester Communications Director Amy Simmons.
- Unanimously appointed McKiernan as council liaison to the Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Board.
- Unanimously agreed to forward the appointments of Smith to a four-year term as an alternate member of the Regional Jail Authority, ending June 24, 2023, and Gillian Greenfield to a three-year term on the Old Town Advancement Commission, ending June 24, 2022.
- Unanimously agreed to forward the reappointments of Casey Stine to a three-year term on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, ending June 24, 2022, and Michael Elwell and Peter Roussos to two-year terms on the Community Policy and Management Team, ending June 24, 2021.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Les Veach, Bill Wiley, Judy McKiernan and Corey Sullivan.