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Election will bring new faces to Culpeper council

No matter how Culpeper’s municipal at-large election turns out, there will be at least two new faces on the Town Council come July 1.

And if Mayor Chip Coleman loses to Councilman Mike Olinger and incumbents Billy Yowell and Ben Phillips fail to get re-elected May 6, there could be five new folks on the nine-member council.

Yes, there is much to be decided in this election for the four at-large council seats and mayor’s post, the last to be held in the spring. Beginning next year, municipal elections will take place along with the general election in November.

The unofficial campaigning in Culpeper began more than a year ago when builder Tom Letts began raking Mayor Coleman over the coals in connection with a neighborhood watch issue.

It accelerated last fall when former Councilman Dan Boring announced that he was moving to a warmer climate in Arizona and Councilman Jim Risner made it known that he was leaving for a colder climate in Maine.

With two seats completely up for grabs, five new candidates—in addition to incumbents Yowell and Phillips—filed to run. Letts, Keith Price, Jon Russell, Hank Milans and former Mayor Pranas Rimeikis all have their names on the ballot.

Russell, who spent six years on the Washougal, Wash., councilman (six years, two terms) has been the focus of a cyber blitz from some who didn’t like him in Washington and are now trying to kill his chances in Culpeper.

The 38-year-old Russell, who has the most extensive website of all the candidates, pushed the matter of changing the municipal election date into a referendum that voters overwhelmingly approved last November.

Letts has been a Culpeper resident for 25 years and has held a number of offices, including president of the Piedmont Virginia Builders Association in 2006. He was an adjunct professor of building trades at Germanna Community College in 2004 and currently sits on the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee and Architectural Review Board.

Milans, 66, has been a town employee since 1969. Currently a construction inspector and the projects manager for the inner loop, Milans plans to retire June 30. If elected, he would take office as a councilman the next day. He has long been an organizer of the town’s Fourth of July parade.

Rimeikis, a retired U. S. Army special services master sergeant and Vietnam veteran, served as Culpeper’s mayor from 2002-10 before being defeated by Coleman.

He has been involved in politics and community activities since coming to Culpeper in 1995 and is now chairman of the Culpeper Parking Authority. Rimeikis was elected mayor without previously serving on the council.

Yowell, a Culpeper native, was appointed to the council in 1988 and served until being defeated in 1998. He was re-elected in 2002 and has served ever since.

He is chairman of the council’s finance committee.

Phillips, 39, is a Culpeper native and an Army veteran who now works in Stafford County as a projects manager for a construction company.

He has been a booster of the inner loop and is seeking his second term on the council.

Repeated efforts to reach Price through email and by telephone were unsuccessful.

Coleman, who is the retired head of Human Services, is seeking his second term as mayor.

Although credited with pushing through the long awaited water–sewer agreement between the town and county at the beginning of his term, much of Coleman’s four years in office have been plagued by controversy.

In addition to his running battle with Letts, the mayor also found himself in the middle of a dispute between former Town Manager Kim Alexander and police Capt. Chris Settle.

A civil suit filed by Alexander, who was fired in January 2013, seeks deformation damages from Coleman.

The 44-year-old Olinger, an auto parts store manager, has been on the council since 2000 and is currently vice mayor. A Culpeper native, Olinger heads a faction of the strongly divided council that believes there is a lack of direction going forward and that Coleman’s leadership has been amiss.

He said he favors cutting spending, repealing the BPOL tax and moving ahead with a leaner budget.

Should Olinger be elected, the council would appoint someone to fill his council seat until a special election could be held in November.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

 

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