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.