COURTHOUSE — As short lists go, it’s not so short, but this week the public has a chance to weigh in on nine people the City Council is considering for appointment to the vacant Kempsville District seat.
The seat has been vacant since City Councilmember Jessica Abbott resigned on Friday, July 2, due to an undisclosed health issue. Her departure came little more than a half-year into the start of her second four-year term in the office.
Fifteen people applied for the appointment, and the city on Wednesday, Aug. 4, released names and biographical information on nine people who will be considered and address the council and the public. The vast majority of those who applied also said they would run for the seat in a special election that is now expected to be held in November 2022.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a special session today at 2 p.m. at City Hall, during which the candidates for appointment will give presentations and respond to questions from the 10 people they hope to join on the dais.
A special session at 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 12, is scheduled to include public comment about the appointment for the seat, and this is expected to be followed by a vote to bring somebody aboard, according to the city statement.
“I want to get somebody into the Kempsville seat as soon as possible so Kempsville has a representative,” Dyer said during an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
“It was a lot of people who looked really good,” City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, said during an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 4. “Now we’ve got to talk to them and see who comes out on top.”
Henley said the council might narrow down the list a bit more after the initial presentations and conversations.
There are familiar names in the mix.
Among the nine are two people Abbott defeated in elections for the seat – former City Councilmember Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, a retired professor who served a term representing the seat before Abbott first won election in 2016, and Bill Dale, a financial planner and former priest who lost in the general election against Abbott last year.
Former state Del. Rocky Holcomb, a Republican who represented the 85th House District for a year following a special election, is in the running to be appointed to the district seat, too. He now serves as the chief deputy in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.
Virginia Beach has faced the need to temporarily appoint people to council seats in recent years, but this time there is another wrinkle. Whomever the City Council appoints will likely serve at least until November 2022 due to ongoing federal litigation about the local voting system and changes to state law that mean the city’s unusual voting system will be different, though it is not entirely clear how.
Virginia Beach cannot hold a special election this year under the current system, in which people who live outside the Kempsville District would help determine who represents it, due to the litigation in federal court.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson ruled that the city’s local elections system violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act because it denies minorities an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice – a determination the city is appealing – and the court is still determining what the replacement system might be.
Virginia Beach appealed to Jackson to allow a special election in November 2021 under the existing system to fill Abbott’s seat with a permanent replacement, but Jackson in a Monday, July 19, order denied the city’s motion.
The city claims it is harmed by the current court process, but, Jackson wrote, “if the court were to allow a special election to occur under the current invalid and unconstitutional system, the court could further harm the city’s minority community.” The city appealed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court, but that court on Monday, July 26, denied the request to overturn Jackson’s order about the special election.
In July, the city argued in court filings that it needed to hold a special election this coming November due to requirements in the law, but now officials believe the temporary appointee can serve until the result of a 2022 special election is known. City Attorney Mark Stiles in an interview said the intent of the law is to have an appointee to an elected office serve only for as long as necessary – meaning the voters should choose a long-term replacement for a vacancy.
“The law just doesn’t contemplate if external forces prevent that election from happening,” Stiles said. “We concluded the better reading (of the law) was that person can stay in office.”
Dyer said the city needs to be especially judicious about its pick because the appointee will hold the office for longer than originally anticipated because there cannot be a special election this year, as the city sought.
“That would have been the much better course,” Dyer said. “This would have given the voters the opportunity to pick their leader.”
Back to the “short” list. The following descriptions of the candidates generally are based on information the filed with applications, which you can view at links by clicking on their names:
• Mike Anderson, who works in architectural and commercial sales at Riverside Brick & Supply Company in Chesapeake. Anderson has a range of community service listed in biographical materials released by the city, and he serves on the Virginia Beach Beaches and Waterways Commission and the Virginia Beach Community Services Board. Additionally, Anderson initially was a candidate for the district seat last year, but he dropped out of the race. “Due to the pandemic, I was very aware that I should work to help Jessica get reelected to the seat,” Anderson wrote. He would consider running to represent the seat.
• Bill Dale has lived in the district for 40 years. He unsuccessfully challenged Abbott in the 2020 general election for the Kempsville District seat. Abbott defeated Dale with 62.3 percent of the vote to the challenger’s 37.4 percent, according to official returns. Dale also unsuccessfully ran for the Virginia General Assembly as a Democrat in 2013. Among other service, Dale founded the Virginia Beach Homeless Coalition, which established a winter shelter program, and served on the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission — and was involved in and chaired the committee that led to its creation. Dale did not turn in responses to questions for his application. He told The Independent News he would consider running for the seat. Among his concerns is what elections for local offices look like. “Whatever the system’s going to be, this council is going to have to spend time making sure that works,” he said on Thursday, Aug. 5.
• Naomi Estaris, has worked in the travel industry and is founder and president of a nonprofit, as well as a community volunteer. She has owned a travel business, worked as an accountant and formerly served as chief operating officer for Operation Smile, Inc. Estaris has also served the Sister City Association of Virginia Beach, Envision 2040 and as the president of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce for South Eastern Virginia. If appointed, she wrote: “My plans will be to continue my service and run in the general election.”
• Michael Feggans, who has a background in cybersecurity, served in the Air Force after graduating from Tallwood High School. Feggans rose to the rank of master sergeant over a 20 year career, and he is now the chief executive officer of Outerbridge Technical Solutions, LLC, a small cybersecurity and technology firm. His community service includes work with Team Rubicon as a volunteer, and participation in the Virginia Beach Young Democrats. He wrote that he would run for election to the seat next year if appointed.
• Rocky Holcomb won a 2017 special election over Democrat Cheryl Turpin to serve the unexpired term of Scott Taylor in the 85th District after Taylor won a seat in Congress. Later that year in the general election, Turpin defeated Holcomb, who again sought the seat two years later but lost to Alex Askew, a Democrat who kept the seat blue after Turpin ran unsuccessfully for state senate. Holcomb served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and, in the sheriff’s office, he oversees administrative operations. He has been with the office since 1991. His community work includes volunteering at a local elementary school and during the Pungo Strawberry Festival. Would he run for the seat? “I would not rule it out,” he wrote. “My inclination is to run and give voters a choice.”
• Richard Jordan, a quality engineer at Liebherr Mining Equipment, wrote in his application that his professional experience has helped him perform analyses on problems and processes. If selected for the interim position, he would seek election to the seat. “I have a long-term interest in representing the Kempsville District for the City Council,” he wrote.
• Dr. Brian Matney, a lifelong Kempsville resident, serves as the principal at Great Bridge Christian Academy in Chesapeake. He is a past principal at Landstown and Cox high schools in Virginia Beach, and has held other school administrative positions, including as the principal at Currituck County High School. He has served in professional associations, including leadership roles, and is a longtime member of the Kempsville Lions Club. He served on the Virginia Beach Crime Task Force. He indicated he is open to running for the seat.
• Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond served one term as a member of the council in the Kempsville District seat, and has held a number of community service, academic and government roles. She is known for her work as founder and chairperson of the Virginia African American Cultural Center, Inc., and she serves on the executive board of the ViBe Creative District and as president of the Virginia Beach Beautification Commission. She retired from Norfolk State University as distinguished professor emeritus of music and the humanities, and she also served as director of service-learning and civic engagement for the university, according to a biography. She wrote that she hopes to bring continuity and institutional knowledge to her service, and she would be willing to run for election.
• Brent Werlein, an engineer in the city public utilities department, has worked for Virginia Beach city government since 2013. His letter to the council and resume stresses work on complex issues with other areas of the city government, and he wrote that he would not pursue election to the seat. “I don’t believe that someone who is appointed to a seat that is elected by the people should be able to run in the upcoming election to the seat,” he wrote in his application to the City Council.
Detailed information about candidates for the vacancy is available online via www.vbgov.com/hottopics, including links to resumes, answers to questions and economic disclosure statements.
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