By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
After July 1, a number of city councils, due to recent municipal elections, will be reorganizing as new mayors and council members are sworn in to assume their duties.
One of the most interesting reorganization efforts may be taking shape in Franklin, Virginia. African-Americans who are the majority of the population of the city lost a 4-3 majority on the council when Raystine Johnson-Ashburn did not seek reelection and Councilman Frank Rabil won the seat against rival Councilman Greg McLemore.
As in most cities with a majority or significant Black population, if an African-American is elected or selected as mayor, a White colleague is likely selected as Vice Mayor, and vice-versa. During Ashburn’s tenure, Barry Cheatham was Vice Mayor. During the past three decades, as Blacks have gained a more active political role in city political operations, this policy has been used.
The practice is not based on law or state or city code, but demonstrates some form of racial harmony and equity. According to various sources, however, there may be a reluctance to continue with this unwritten protocol in Franklin, once the governing panel is reorganized this week. One means of determining the city’s Vice Mayor is tenure. Mary Hilliard has the longest with 24 years. But various sources in the community question if Hilliard has the physical or policy agility for the job.
Hillary, who is in her 70s, represents Ward 5 on council. Representing Ward 3 for six years, Greg McLemore admitted to this reporter that he does not have the support on council to be considered for the post, because of the political tensions between him and his colleagues over the years Linwood Johnson is the third African-American who won a seat on council when he ousted Mona Murphy from the 4th Ward seat she has held since 2012. But he may not be considered because he is the newest member of council.
Yet, there is no codified criteria that a freshman member of the panel could not be considered for it. “Black people are already upset that they have lost the majority on council,” said community activist Thomas Councill. “We don’t think it’s fair not to even consider a Black member as Vice Mayor.” Councill said that Johnson, a longtime activist and businessman, has demonstrated his ability to “ to lead people and conduct a meeting. But other council members must be willing to give him a shot to show what he can do.”
Another issue is who will replace Ward 6 representative Frank Rabil, now that he has ascended to the job of Mayor. On July 11, according to Jennifer Maynard, the City Voter Registrar, City Attorney H. Taylor Williams, IV will brief the council on the options the officials could pursue to accomplish this goal. Maynard said the council has 45 days after Rabil resigns from his seat to assume the mayorship to appoint someone to sit in his seat until an election can be held to fill it.
Once Rabil assumes the job of mayor, the council will be split 3-3 down racial lines. Applicants for the replacement must be a voting resident of Ward 6 which is majority White.
According to Maynard, the council may be advised to appoint someone to sit in Rabil’s seat who would promise not to run for it during the upcoming election, to assure they do not acquire an advantage over other individuals who may seek the seat.