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Civil Lawsuit Dropped Against Herndon Town Councilmember

Two current and one incoming Herndon Town councilmembers have dropped their lawsuit against Councilmember Grace Wolf Cunningham.

Cunningham, who lost her seat in a narrow and highly charged election, was replaced by newcomers Cesar del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal.

Del Aguila and current councilmembers Sheila Olem and Signe Friedrichs, who both won re-election, filed a civil suit on Sept. 24 against Cunningham for allegations of malicious prosecution. The trio ran a unified campaign.

John Farrell, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told Reston Now that his clients directed him to file a nonsuit last Tuesday, which the judge has not yet signed off on.

Farrell said his clients decided to drop the case “since they won the election quite handily.”

The lawsuit alleges that the four-term councilwoman engaged in malicious prosecution over when she filed campaign law violations against the trio. The Virginia State Board of Elections dismissed the three complaints lodged by Cunningham.

The first complaint against Friedrichs stated a grip card that said “Herndon’s Future is Happening Now: Let’s plan it together” contained no identification about the campaign committee that paid for the card. The second complaint against said del Aguila did not form a campaign committee and did not file any campaign finance disclosure reports. The final complaint against Olem challenges a grip card that stated “Moving Forward Herndon.”

The judge in the case rejected Cunningham’s attempt to dismiss the case.

While re-election of four incumbents maintained much of the board’s composition, the lawsuit signals a changing dynamic of the new town council.

“I think it is a shift in who is the dominant voice of Herndon,” Farrell said. “I think my clients would hope that the people who supported Ms. Cunningham will support the interest of the voters.”

Cunningham declined to comment to Reston Now because the case is still pending.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Town of Herndon Mayor Resigns from County Democratic Committee

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel severed ties with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee this week in response to “Trump-like” campaign signs that asserted candidates were “pretending to be Democrats.”

Merkel, a Democrat who has been served as the mayor since 2012, resigned from the committee a day after the election.

“I cannot in good faith be a part of a committee that condones such negative campaigning and untrue messaging about its own members, especially at the polls and with my constituents.  I consider myself a Democrat, particularly in the Trump era, but I will no longer be associated with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee,” Merkel wrote in a statement to Reston Now.

She said the signs were divisive in a written statement to the county committee and the Dranesville District Democratic Committee:

I must admit that I was most disappointed to arrive at the polls in Herndon yesterday to see the attached very large committee-approved signs asserting that there were candidates “pretending to be Democrats.”  This is appalling behavior, and I expected better of my party.   Many of the candidates running for town council were still dues-paying members of FCDC and the Dranesville committee on Election Day.  I wonder what our Congressman and Senator would think of seeing their signs seemingly associated with this kind of untrue, Trump-like “Fake News” scare tactic?  My guess is they would not appreciate it, particularly given that I was pleased to receive the personal endorsement of both Gerry Connolly and Tim Kaine, along with every other Virginia Democratic elected official that serves the Town of Herndon.  I think that speaks to years of relationships building and working together on behalf of the residents of Herndon.   

Additionally, I’m not sure if you are aware but  Herndon Voices, a PAC owned by one of your endorsed candidates, distributed materials at the polls endorsing known Republicans along with another non-FCDC endorsed candidate.  Does this set well with the committee and the required-for-endorsement pledge to only support the endorsed candidates?

In a statement to Reston Now, Dan Lagana, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said the signs were not authorized by the committee

“The signs were not authorized nor produced by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. I wish Mayor Merkel the very best and want her to know that the door is always open. However, I strongly urge both the Mayor and Herndon Town Councilmembers-elect to set aside personal differences and work collaboratively on behalf of the residents of the Town of Herndon,” Lagana wrote.

Photo via Lisa Merkel

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Updated: Incumbents Return but Cunningham Ousted from Herndon Town Council

 

(Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday at 7:30 a.m. to reflect official results). 

Incumbent Grace Wolf Cunningham, a four-term councilwoman, lost her seat on the Herndon Town Council following a narrow and highly charged election.

Cunningham was replaced by newcomers Cesar Del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal. Incumbents Jennifer Baker, Sheila Olem, Bill McKenna and Signe Friedrichs were also elected to the council, maintaining much of the composition of the board. After official results were certified, Dhakal came in fifth place, moving McKenna to the sixth spot and booting Joe Plummer, another candidate who was previously projected to win, off the council.

Ten candidates ran for six open seats and margins between candidates remained characteristically narrow, as in previous years. Although Olem, Aguila and Friedrichs were separated by relatively comfortable margins, votes separating other candidates were minimal. Plummer lost to McKenna by 22 votes.

At around 11:30 p.m. on election night, it appeared the newcomer would secure the final seat on the board and that McKenna, a one-term councilman, was off.

Internal conflict that boiled over in the public arena was common in this year’s election. Olem, Friedrichs and Del Aguila — who ran a unified campaign — filed a lawsuit against Cunningham alleging she engaging in malicious prosecution over when the four-term councilwoman filed campaign law violations against the trio. The violations were squarely dismissed by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

The lawsuit is pending a decision following the election. The judge in the case rejected Cunningham’s attempt to dismiss the case.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel was re-elected as mayor, continuing a position she has held since 2012. The election was not contested. New council members will assume office on Jan. 1.

In Focus: Fairfax County

In other local and county election news, Fairfax County voters approved a $182 million bond to fund public safety improvements for a number of facilities, including fire stations, police training buildings and the renovation of civil and criminal justice facilities.

The measure was approved with just under 70 percent of total votes. As of 9:45 a.m., one precinct has not reported results, but the absence of that data will not alter results.

Meanwhile, voter turnout was high this year in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated a voter turnout of nearly 70 percent, including absentee ballots. That number is up from nearly 46 percent in 2014.

This story has been updated.

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Poll: Should Voters Select Six Candidates for the Herndon Town Council Race?

Town of Herndon residents will be asked to select candidates for the Herndon Town Council on the ballot tomorrow. But language on the ballot states that voters are only required to select up to six candidates, leaving voters with the option to select candidates they feel particularly passionate about without filling out all available slots.

The option, which has garnered questions from voters, prompted Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel to address the issue earlier today. Merkel, who is running unopposed, is backing only four candidates: Jennifer Baker, Bill McKenna, Grace Wolf Cunningham and Joseph Plummer.

There are several ways to look at that. Voting for just the candidates you believe in may make sense in this kind of election when the top six vote getters are the winners. Recent elections have been very close. (Even the Virginia House of Delegates was essentially decided by one vote in one house district!) At times in the past Council seats have been decided by as few as 4 votes. What if you voted for the four or five candidates you really believe in, but then felt like you had to use up your last vote or two, and cast votes for candidates that you weren’t 100% behind? And then one of the “second choices” manages to beat one of your top choices by a vote or two? In essence you contributed to your favorite actually losing the seat. Sounds crazy, but it could happen. Food for thought, I guess.

Town of Herndon residents, take the following poll to indicate how you plan to handle the issue on Election Day. 

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Five Seats Open in 2019 Reston Association Board Election

Reston Association has issued a call for candidates for the 2019 Board of Directors’ election. Five seats are open.

The following seats will be open next year: an at-large seat for a three-year term, apartment owners representative for a one-year term, Hunters Woods/Dogwood district representative for a one-year term, North Point district representative for a three-year term and Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district representative for a three-year term.

Interested candidates must complete a candidacy statement form. RA’s elections committee will validate candidates in late January and the election will begin on March 4.

The nine-member board is responsible for setting the mission and goals of RA, policies and procedures, monitoring finances, approving budgets and setting the assessment rate.

Photo via Reston Association/YouTube

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Town of Herndon Candidates Gear Up for Final Stretch Ahead of Council, Mayoral Election

Candidates for the Herndon Town Council are gearing up for election day on Nov. 6.  Over the last month, fundraising totals for Grace Wolf Cunningham, a current councilwoman running for reelection, surpassed her opponents who are also vying for seats on the Council.

Cunningham reeled in nearly $7,000, moving her ahead of funds raised by other candidates — even after factoring in a $3,000 loan she took from herself. Ten candidates are vying for six town council seats: Cunningham, Jennifer Baker, Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, Signe Friedrichs, W.J. Sean Kenis Jr., Bill McKenna, Sheila Olem, Joe Plummer and Roland Taylor. Baker, Cunningham, Friedrichs, McKenna and Olem are incumbents.

Mayor Lisa Merkel is running unopposed and reeled in $4,374 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 25, including donations from Cunningham, and State House Rep. Jennifer Boysko, Fairfax County Board of Director John Foust. She had roughly $2,345 cash on hand.

Most other Council candidates brought in roughly $1,000 in contributions over the past month. Baker raised around $2,519 and was left with $1,542. Dhakal received more than $4,000 over the last reporting period through 51 contributions, largely from the Indian community.

Del Aguila raised nearly $900 and was left with $677 in his campaign coffers, a number similar to Kenis Jr. who raised nearly $2,000 but was left with around $692. Friedrichs received nearly $610 and was had roughly $1,200 in his coffers. McKenna received around $1,528 and was left with a little over $1,000. Olem held on to most contributions, with around $1,015 raised and $3,682 in the bank. Plummer raised $1,161 and had just $390 remaining.

Data for Taylor was not available because he is a self-funded candidate and is only required to file campaign finance reports at the conclusion of his campaign.

Donations across campaigns were common. For example, Merkel donated to the several council candidate committees, including that of Cunningham, McKenna, and Plummer. 

Alliances have also emerged during a recent civil suit filed by Olem, Del Aguila and Friedrichs against Cunningham alleging she engaged in the malicious prosecution against them. A judge is likely to make a decision on the civil suit following the election.

Cunningham’s legal representative, State Sen. Chap Peterson, called the lawsuit a “distraction.”

 “My client, the Honorable Grace Wolf Cunningham looks forward to Election Day and continuing to represent her constituents and achieving results. Once Election Day is over we will deal with whatever legal issues remain,” Peterson wrote in a statement.

File photo

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Friday Morning Notes

Absentee voting begins today — Voting begins today at the Fairfax County government center and ends on Oct. 13 at nine additional locations. Absentee votes can also be cast by mail. The ballots for Town of Herndon residents will include options for mayor and town council members. [Fairfax County Government]

How about some hairspray — Reston Community Players will kick off its 52nd season with the musical Hairspray. It opens on October 19 and runs through November 10 at Reston Community Center. [Reston Community Players]

Missing endangered man found — Patrick Brown, 74, an endangered man who went missing yesterday, was found and is safe. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Photo by Kit Allgaier

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Candidate List Released Ahead of Herndon Town Elections in November

The roster of candidates vying for Herndon Town Council and Town Mayor has been released ahead of elections on November 6.

Lisa Merkel, the town’s current mayor, is running for reelection. No other candidates are running.

Five incumbents are running for six seats on the Town Council for one-year terms. Those candidates are Jennifer Baker, Grace Cunningham, Signe Friedrichs, William McKenna and Sheila Olem.

In the race, five newcomers are hoping to challenge incumbents for their seats: Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, W.J. Kenis, Jr., Joseph Plummer and Roland Taylor.

Town residents must register to vote by 5 p.m. on October 16. Applications must be mailed to the General Registrar (12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 323). Online applications will be accepted through 11:59 p.m.

File photo

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RCA: ‘With No Mayor or City Council, Serve on the Reston Citizens Association’

This letter was submitted by members of the Reston Citizens Association. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

If you live in Reston, you surely know that it is a world-renowned master-planned community. Back in 1967, when people realized there would be no mayor or city council for our community, concerned citizens created the Reston Community Association (RCA) to represent its citizens and to monitor and encourage responsible development. Now called the Reston Citizens Association, RCA is still the only community-wide, non-partisan, and action-oriented organization in which everyone that lives, works and plays in Reston has a voice.

Want to take an active role in the future of Reston? Run for a seat on the RCA board!

There are eight seats available in the 2018 elections.  To run for a director seat, you must live in Small Tax District 5, be a Reston resident 18 years or older, and must live in the district which you plan to represent.  Elections will be held from June 7 to June 22 for four district seats and four at-large seats for its Board of Directors.

As a member of the RCA Board of Directors, you will interact with the community on the issues that impact them, meet with county and other local officials, and report on public meetings. You will collect information, provide analysis and, based upon feedback received from the public, inform various local organizations and news outlets directly about public expectations for outcomes on issues that affect Reston.

Your completed application must be sent to [email protected] by May 30. Terms begin at the June 25 board meeting. Download an application online.

Questions? Contact the Reston Citizens Association Election Committee at [email protected]. Learn more at RCAreston.com.

Logo courtesy of Reston Citizens Association

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Monday Morning Notes

Nominations Open for Volunteer Service Awards — Reston Association is seeking nominations for its annual Volunteer Reston Service Awards which recognize individuals, groups, families and businesses that are contributing to the community through volunteer service. Award winners will be announced at a ceremony at The Lake House on April 19. Nominations are due by Feb. 9. [Reston Association]

Artwork Available for Purchase from Monster Drawing Rally — Greater Reston Arts Center is selling remaining artwork from its live monster drawing valley event and fundraiser. During the program, more than 50 artists created artwork on site.  Pieces are available online. To purchase, email [email protected] or stop by the gallery. All proceeds benefit the center. [Greater Reston Arts Center]

Election Information Session Set for Jan. 3 — Individuals interested in running for an open seat on RA’s board of directors can attend the information session, which will provide an overview of the elections process and candidates’ roles and responsibilities. The session will take place at RA headquarter (12002 Sunrise Valley Drive) from 7 – 8 p.m. [Reston Association]

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Reston Association Issues Call for Candidates for 2018 Board Election

Reston Association’s Board of Directors could be slated for a shakeup next year as four of the nine-member body’s seats are open in next year’s election.

The association has formally issued a call for candidates. An information session is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at RA (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).

In April, the following seats will open: one at-large seat for a one-year term, two at-large seats for a three-year team and one seat for the South Lakes District for a three-year term.  An orientation is set for Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.

In a video announcing the election, Caron Anton, co-chair of the elections committee, said the election is an opportunity to shape the future of Reston through the association. To qualify, candidates must be a RA member, live in a residential property tied to a Reston deed, and have no unpaid fees. Candidates must file by 5 p.m. on Jan. 26. Candidates running for the South Lakes District seat must live in the district and collect signatures from households within the district.

Filing requirements include an election statement, which details goals and qualifications, and at least 25 signatures from individuals in 25 different households. Election results will be announced on April 10 at the annual members’ meeting.

The nine-member board consists of eight directors, who are elected for three-year, staggered terms by members, and one director elected by apartment owners. Four of the eight directors are district-level representatives while others are elected by the membership at-large. 

The body is responsible for ensuring RA’s goals are fulfilled by creating policies related to programming, planning, budget and personnel policies. RA’s website contains the following description of board members’ duties as whole:

  • When working as a full board, all members: Determine long-range mission and goals; establish RA policy and procedures; hire and evaluate the CEO; monitor finances, approve budget, and set the assessment; create and update long-range plans; and approve association programs through the budget process.
  • When working as individual members, all directors: Attend all board meetings, special events, and board retreats; prepare thoroughly for board meetings; serve as committee members and chairs; offer counsel, suggestions, and opinions; assume leadership roles when called upon; keep the board and the EVP informed of community concerns.
  • As well as receiving daily assistance from the CEO and the operational staff, the board is also supported by Legal Counsel, who helps guide the board into legally acceptable conduct and serves an important “loss prevention” role for the Association. Legal Counsel advises the CEO and board, but reports to the CEO, and responds to requests for opinions and analyses from the CEO, full board, or President.

For more information, email the elections committee at [email protected] or call 703-435-6530. Information is also available on RA’s website, including an elections calendar.

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