The Harrisonburg School Board 2016

SBBesides electing three members of city council in November, voters in Harrisonburg will also be picking school board members.  Unlike most years, the school board races seem to be more competitive than city council.  There are three, four-year seats available and one, two-year seat up for grabs.  As the school board is nonpartisan, none of the candidates will have a party affiliation listed on the ballot.

The five candidates for the three, four-year seats are: Nick Swayne (current vice chair of the school board who is seeking reelection), Tom Domonske (who is also hoping to be reelected), Deb Fitzgerald (the chair of the Harrrisonburg Democratic Party), Kaylene Seigle (the leader of the local Young Republicans), and Dany Fleming.  Mr. Fleming, as you may recall from an earlier article, previously served on the school board, but lost his seat for representing a part of the city that he was not legally eligible to represent.  When Kelley Rooney (who was elected in 2014) resigned her seat earlier this year due to relocation, the school board appointed Mr. Fleming to fill-in until a special election could be held.  As mentioned, that seat with two years remaining is also up for election with Lauren Penrod and Bill Wilson vying for the one opening.  Curiously, at one point Dany Fleming was apparently running for both the school board and also seeking a seat on city council.  When I visited the local registrar’s office recently, I asked if it is legal for one candidate to run for these two offices at the same time, because it certainly isn’t permissible to serve on both city council and school board concurrently.  However, Mr. Fleming did not win the Democratic nomination for city council at their meeting on June 13th and thus he ended his bid for that office.

Although school board races are typically low-key races and often uncontested in Harrisonburg, this year could prove considerably more interesting, especially given that we have both a Democratic and a Republican Party leader seeking office.  It should be interesting to see what happens.

Writing-In Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.
Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.

In general, the November 3rd elections in the city of Harrisonburg were a rather dull affair.  Although citizens had the opportunity to vote for six different contests, only one office, state senator, was contested.  As you might expect, this lack of choices inspired a handful of folks to write-in candidates.  Fellow blogger Rick Sincere often pens an article about the write-in votes in Charlottesville, but what names do people write-in in Harrisonburg?  Well, I decided to visit the local registrar’s office to find out.

In case you are wondering, once the election results have been certified they are made available to the public.  Unfortunately, they aren’t listed on a nice, neat, printed sheet, but rather each write-in vote is printed on a long piece of narrow paper, which resembles a register receipt.  Having previously worked as an election official in Rockingham County, I know that some voters write-in made up or fictitious characters, like Mickey Mouse or “anyone else”, but how many real people could be identified?  For the record, I only went through the data once, so it is possible the numbers I list below aren’t quite right.  Nevertheless, if you live in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County, I think you’ll find them of interest.

In the race for the 26th Virginia Senate seat, there were only 14 write-in votes in Harrisonburg, likely low because voters had at least two choices.  April Moore, the Democratic candidate, won Harrisonburg and Republican Mark Obenshain got second.  However, there was a three-way tie for third place between Christopher Runion, Lowell Fulk, and yours truly as we each had two write-ins.

Moving on to the 26th House of Delegates seat where Republican Tony Wilt ran unopposed, there were almost 11% write-ins, the highest for any of the seats in play.  Harrisonburg City Council member Kai Degner took second with 19 votes, followed by Rockingham County School member Lowell Fulk with 14 votes.  Both Degner and Fulk had each previously been the Democratic nominee for this office in earlier elections.  Other write-ins of note included:  Harvey Yoder with three votes, my partner on the radio Andy Schmookler with two votes, local political activist Dale Fulk with two votes, and Harrisonburg Democratic Party Chair Deb Fitzgerald also with two. Many people received one write-in vote including: former Harrisonburg City Council members Dorn Peterson and George Pace, Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones, the Virginia Libertarian Party Vice-chairman Dr. James Lark III, State Senator Creigh Deeds from Bath County, former Harrisonburg Republican Party Chairman John Elledge, the 2015 Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate April Moore, 2014 city council candidates Alleyn Harned and Joshua Huffman, and several of my Facebook friends such as: Jeremy Aldrich, Shammara Blanchard, and Matthew Phillippi.

Finishing in second in the race for sheriff with seven write-in votes was Harvey Yoder.  Third was former sheriff candidate Kurt Boshart with five and fourth was Chris Monahan with three.  Other names with one or more votes include: Kai Degner, Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, local TV anchor Bob Corso, former sheriff Glenn Weatherholtz, 6th District Democratic Party Chair Joe Fitzgerald, former sheriff candidate CM Hess, City Council member Richard Baugh, Greg Nesselrodt (one of my good friends in high school), and again one vote for me.  I’m not quite sure why someone would think me as being qualified for sheriff, but that is another issue.

For Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court, Renee Evans Haywood captured nine write-ins.  Other names of note included: Kai Denger, Dale Fulk, former treasurer candidate Penny Imeson, former council member Charlie Chenault, school board member Andy Kohen, local TV producer Channing Frampton, Joe Fitzgerald, Chris Jones, Lowell Fulk, a previous clerk candidate Diane Fulk, local political activist Dave Briggman, former HHS classmate W.O. Brown III, and a vote for me.  I assure you that someone wrote me in, but I didn’t do it.

Moving on to Harrisonburg/Rockingham Commonwealth Attorney, many people tied for second with two votes: Dale Fulk, Tricia Nesselrodt, John Elledge, and former House of Delegates candidate Gene Hart.  Other names with a vote include: Lowell Fulk, Andy Kohen, radio personality Karl Magenhoffer, attorney Bob Keefer, attorney Roland Santos, high school friend Edward Panchari, and me, Joshua Huffman.

In the special election for Harrisonburg School Board to replace Dany Fleming, Mr. Fleming captured the most write-in votes with ten.  Other candidates of interest with one or more votes include: Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, Steve Nesselrodt, Tricia Nesselrodt, Mark Finks, former school board member Tom Mendez, Erin Phillippi, Matt Phillippi, Charlie Chenault, Violet Allain (who hosted a city council meet-and-greet for the candidates at her house last year), Channing Frampton, and another vote for me.

Lastly, there weren’t too many write-in votes for Soil & Water Conservation Director.  Dale Fulk had two, radio personality Jim Britt had one, several of my friends had one such as Tristan Flage, Joe Rudmin, and Matt Phillippi, and, again, one person decided to write my name in for this office.

Although some write-in votes are nonsensical or vulgar, for others write-ins are a way to show dissatisfaction with the possible choices, or in the case of the 2015 elections in Harrisonburg, the lack of choices.  And, to the handful of people who decided to write me in, I certainly appreciate your vote, but I’m not running for anything right now.  I hope I can earn your support when and if the time comes again.

Yes, writing-in might be annoying for those election officials counting the ballots, but it can be a fascinating insight into the minds of the disaffected voter.  Hopefully the citizens of Harrisonburg will have at least two choices for every elected office in 2016, in which case we should see a dip in write-in votes in the next election.

The Unfortunate Case of Dany Fleming

In 2012, Dany Fleming was a candidate to serve on the city school board representing the west district of Harrisonburg.  Running unopposed, it wasn’t much of a shock that he garnered 98.43% of the vote.

Recently, a surprising fact came to the public attention.  Mr. Fleming does not live in the west district of Harrisonburg as defined in the city code.  It is not that he has moved; he has maintained the same residence since his election.  However, when he ran for the school board in 2012, he ran in the wrong district.

According to the code of Harrisonburg, section 17-1-2:

The Harrisonburg City Public School Board shall consist of six (6) members, four (4) members shall be elected from the east school district and two (2) members shall be elected from the west school district.

Each member elected to the school board shall, at the time of his or her election, be a qualified voter and a bona fide resident of the school district from which that member is elected; and if the member shall cease to be a resident of such school district, the member’s position on the school board shall be deemed vacant.

According to reports, when Mr. Fleming decided to run, he spoke to the Harrisonburg registrar to determine in which district he lived.  Although supposedly told he was in the west, that information was incorrect.  In accordance with city code section 1-1-11, the city is split into two wards divided by Main Street.  As Mr. Fleming lived and continues to live east of Main Street, he is in the east ward.

Earlier this week, an attorney approached me regarding this issue.  He was looking to find Harrisonburg residents to join in filing a petition against Mr. Fleming serving on school board due to his ineligibility.  As such, I decided to learn as much about the issue as I could.  I read through the suit, explored the city code, spoke with leaders in the Harrisonburg community, tried to determine the political ramifications of this issue, and even made a stop in to the local registrar’s office.

Now, I should point out that I don’t really know Mr. Fleming nor do I have any strong feelings about him either positively or negatively.  As far as I could tell, he seemed to be a good fellow trying to do his best to serve the citizens of Harrisonburg.  Although I found nothing that would lead me to believe that Mr. Fleming did anything to deceive the public, the simple fact of the matter was that he is not a resident of the district which he was elected to represent and thus could not legally serve on the school board.  There is no joy in telling someone that he cannot serve in elected office, but the law in this instance was quite clear.  Therefore, after several days of consideration, I agree to include my name of the list of Harrisonburg residents who believed Mr. Fleming was ineligible and thus ought to be removed.

As a result of this petition, which was presented to the Harrisonburg City Council last night, Mr. Fleming has announced his resignation.  This whole affair is tragic and it is unfortunate that Mr. Fleming has to pay the price for this error.

This matter brings up several questions that ought to be addressed in Harrisonburg politics before the next election.  Why is the school board divided into two wards when the city council is not?  Why does the east get four representatives while the west gets only two?  Why do candidates have to live in certain parts of the city even though citizens in both the east and west get to vote for both offices?  Hopefully, some of these curious laws can be addressed and amended before the next school board election in 2016 so that situations like Mr. Fleming’s will not be repeated.