Virginia Political News

—In Franklin— Citizens Speculate On City’s Next Vice Mayor

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
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.

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