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Culpeper board seat stirs debate

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

A conflict with racial overtones is brewing over the pending appointment of someone to fill Tom Underwood’s seat on the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors.

 Underwood, who was elected to his second term in November, has announced his resignation effective April 16.

The Board of Supervisors has 45 days to select a replacement for Underwood, who has taken a full-time job in Chicago. That person will serve until a special election is held in November.

Underwood, a Republican, has indicated that he would like his successor in the Salem District to be from his party.  On Tuesday night, a group of his supporters presented a petition to the Board of Supervisors to that effect.

Melanie Chambers, speaking during a public forum, said the board should appoint a Republican to the coming vacancy “because the people of the Salem District have overwhelmingly spoken [for GOP candidates] for over 20 years.”

Another resident, Charles Duncan, suggested that Underwood should be allowed to appoint his successor.

After Chambers spoke, Anne Washington, representing a group of African–American voters, presented the Board of Supervisors with a petition asking that Sanford Reaves Jr. be appointed.

 Reaves, who has served on the county Planning Commission for 18 years and is now its chairman, ran against Underwood in November and took 45 percent of the Salem District votes.

Washington’s petition noted that almost 17 percent of Culpeper County’s population is made up of minorities, who should have at least one seat on the board.

 No person of color has ever served on the Culpeper  Board of Supervisors, and Reaves is believed to be the only African–American ever to run for a seat.

 Washington also contradicted Chambers’ statement about Republican longevity in the Salem District, pointing out that Underwood’s predecessor, John Coates, ran as an independent during his first two elections—in 1991 and 1995.

“We say that the board represents the people, not the party,” Washington told the six supervisors, five of whom are Republicans.

Kurt Christensen, also a Republican, suggested that the board appoint a “caretaker,” someone who would serve until the special election is held. This person would promise not to run in November.

The supervisors have until June 1 to appoint Underwood’s replacement. If they do not, the matter will go to the circuit court judge.

The Board of Supervisors is accepting applications for the interim supervisor position.

 

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

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