Reston, VA

Thursday Morning Notes

New Tip Line Number for County Schools — Fairfax County Public Schools officially have a new text number: 888-777. All information is treated as anonymous and confidential. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Reston Association Board Meets Tonight — The Board of Directors will meet tonight at 6:30 p.m. in RA headquarters. The meeting will be live-streamed online. [Reston Association]

Outdoor Lighting Standards Changed — “Fairfax County is updating our outdoor lighting standards to reduce glare and excessive illumination and match the expanded use of LED lights, which can improve the quality of life for county residents.” [Fairfax County Government]

Herndon Mayor Endorses Pete Buttigieg for President — Mayor Lisa Merkel announced her endorsement of the presidential candidate ahead of his town hall on Sunday, Feb. 23. In a press release, she says he’s committed to “bringing the local executive leadership to Washington and making Washington look more like best-run cities and towns.”

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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As Lisa Merkel wraps up her final term as the Town of Herndon’s mayor, she took a moment to reflect and talk to Reston Now about her experiences in office.

Merkel made town history as the first woman elected into the position in 2012 after serving as Herndon’s vice mayor during the 2010-2012 term.

According to Merkel, her decision to not seek re-election wasn’t based on any specific motive, besides a wish to spend time with her family and dedicate more time to volunteering around the community.

“I still plan on being involved in the town,” she told Reston Now.

Merkel told Reston Now her accomplishments include implementation of the Metrorail Expansion Project, the ongoing development of downtown Herndon and the establishment of the Economic Development Department.

“I’m really proud we’ve embraced the business community,” Merkel said, adding that — due to her efforts — the tax rate is now split evenly between residential and commercial incomes.

Many of the local businesses even give back to the community by acting as sponsors for official events like the annual holiday parade, which Merkel said is the largest event of the year.

In a press release, Merkel said her other key achievements include marking June as LGBTQ Pride Month, adding Circulator buses to Herndon Station, providing online and on-demand Town Council meeting access and approving construction plans for a new fire station.

“Sometimes it’s really the smaller things that get attention,” Merkel told Reston Now, adding that small projects make a huge difference in the town and help to develop a sense of place.

She gave examples of adding tables and umbrellas to the Town Square, lights on the W&OD Trail and gateway signs to announce entry into the town. The tables and umbrellas, especially, gave people a fun and welcoming place to gather, she said.

Merkel has faced some roadblocks, though, during her time in office.

She said she had trouble communicating with the public that development projects in the town won’t threaten the small community feel, which she said is at the heart of Herndon’s identity.

“There was a fear that if we started building like that at the Metro station, it would trickle into downtown,” Merkel said. “We had to reassure people that Herndon won’t be a bunch of highrises.”

During her final months in office, Merkel said she hopes to oversee the groundbreaking on the downtown Herndon project and continue to work on installing underground utilities around town.

Going forward, Merkel said she won’t endorse any particular candidate for the upcoming election. But she hopes the next mayor will be an effective listener, willing to consider other perspectives on topics and won’t be afraid to seek counsel on issues they aren’t familiar with.

She encourages anyone passionate about their community to run, regardless of their political experience.

“Don’t mix national policy issues with town issues because we don’t have jurisdiction over those things,” Merkel said. “You don’t want to alienate any of your constituents with issues that don’t relate to the job. That’s been my philosophy.”

Photo via Lisa Merkel

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After serving her fourth term in the Town of Herndon, Mayor Lisa Merkel announced she doesn’t plan to seek reelection in 2020.

Merkel holds the title as Herndon’s first female mayor after she was elected to the position in 2012 during a three-way contested race, according to a press release.

She said in a video published this morning (Jan. 2) that she is pleased with everything accomplished during her time in office and that she is proud of her role in Herndon’s development.

She said her accomplishments included the announcement of June as LGBTQ Pride month, introduction of circulator buses to Herndon Station, the implementation of online and on-demand council meeting access, approval of construction plans for a new fire station and the establishment of the Economic Development Department, according to the press release.

“I’m anxious to see the next generation of leaders step up to serve,” Merkel said. “Fresh faces and new perspectives are what make a town like ours thrive.”

Going forward, Merkel said she plans to spend more time with her children and family.

Photo via Facebook

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For the first time ever in Herndon, the Herndon WinterMarkt will let community members gather and take part in European holiday festivities.

The event offers food, crafts, drinks, shopping opportunities and entertainment from noon to 8 p.m. at the Herndon Depot Museum (717 Lynn Street) this Saturday (Dec. 14).

This is the first time the event has been held in Herndon, and Mayor Lisa Merkel said it will become an annual tradition to celebrate German and Austrian culture, which is prevalent in the Herndon area.

German Ambassador Niels von Redecker will be in attendance, according to Merkel’s Facebook page.

All ages are welcome to attend this free event. Though many vendors take Venmo and credit cards, the event page suggested that people also bring cash.

“I’m kicking it off at 12:30 [p.m.] with a big toast and German band, so see ya there,” Merkel said in a Facebook video.

Photo via Herndon WinterMarkt/Facebook

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The Town of Herndon has a number of openings for local advisory committees, boards, and commissions.

Town residents are encouraged to apply to open positions in the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) — which aims to promote safe walking and bicycling in the town — and the Fairfax County Athletic Council. One resident will represent the town on the athletic council, which is an advisory body that sets policies and priorities to improve sports programs in the county.

Middle and high school students can also serve on the Herndon Youth Advisory Council, which advises the council on issues and decisions relevant to youth. Students who either live in the Town of Herndon or attend Herndon Middle and Herndon High schools are encouraged to apply.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel said the youth council is a critical way to engage Herndon’s youth, especially as the town’s population increases in number and diversity.

“This is a great way for middle and high school students to develop lifelong habits of community activism,” Merkel said. “The voices of our young people are important and need to be heard.”

Applications are available online and at the clerk’s office in the Herndon Municipal Center (777 Lynn Street).

Image via Town of Herndon

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It’s official: the Herndon Metro Station is nearly complete.

This week, a sign marking the station was installed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials.

Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel met with WMATA officials on Monday, August 5 as part of a Silver Line bus tour.

The station is expected to open in July next year.

The town is working with the county to determine new bus routes with the Fairfax Connector once Metro trains are up and running.

Photo via Town of Herndon/Facebook

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The Town of Herndon’s 1.25 percent increase in its meal tax has generated some backlash from local residents — prompting Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel to clarify why the tax was increased from 2.5 to 3.75 percent last week.

In a statement on Saturday (April 27), Merkel said the increase was necessary to cover an unexpected $1 million shortfall in revenue from business professional occupancy license taxes. The estimated price tag for several capital projects also spiked, she said.

The increase could bring around $900,000 in revenue to cover funding for road projects, hiring an assistant town attorney, parks and recreation events, and connecting crosswalks that are unsafe and not ADA-compliant, Merkel said.

“I know raising taxes isn’t popular and it is not a vote that I took lightly,” she said. “If you go back and look at all the discussions, staff reports and PowerPoints, you will that it was not a flippant decision.”

Merkel said her nine years of experience on the council demonstrates that raising taxes is not a go-to approach. Ultimately, the move could generate cost savings, Merkel said. The town currently outsources legal work that the town attorney cannot take on at a high rate, she said.

“With Metro and the growth we are facing in the area the town is dealing with many more complicated legal issues than in decades past when we were a much sleepier little town,” she said.

Merkel’s entire statement is below:

Tuesday night the Council voted to pass our FY2020 budget. For the first time in many years the council raised the meals tax by 1.25%. I understand that many do not favor this decision and I want you to know that I certainly did not make the decision lightly. I think my record on council for the past nine years demonstrates that I am not someone who looks immediately to raising taxes whenever there’s a tough budget before us, so I hope you’ll read along to see my reasoning for my vote supporting this increase.

The additional revenue generated will be funding road projects for the most part. The town suffered a very unexpected $1million shortfall in BPOL (Business Professional Occupancy License taxes) revenue this budget cycle, and several road projects that have been in the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) for years have had a significant increase in their estimated costs. After a lot of grappling our Town Manager suggested a 1 cent meals tax increase to offset the difference (1 cent meals tax is approximately $900k of revenue.) BPOL is paid mostly by people who do not reside in the town (it is business professional occupancy license fees and is based on gross receipts of the business, the larger the business, the larger the fee. Most of our Herndon businesses are 10 employees or fewer, so you can surmise that a very large company is the reason behind this loss of BPOL revenue) Meals tax is also paid mostly by people who do not live in the town, but use our roads, police, etc. Herndon is an employment center where more than 17,000 people come to work every day, and the biggest portion of our meals tax comes from the M-F lunch crowd.

It was NOT an easy decision for me. The additional .25 that was added was a result of trying to cover some unfunded priorities that were important to the town – some parks and rec events related to the farmers market and family fun days and connecting some sidewalks and completing crosswalks that are currently unsafe and some that are not ADA compliant.

It will also allow us to hire an assistant town attorney which will ultimately save the town money because now we are outsourcing some legal work that the Town Attorney cannot take on, and that is at a MUCH higher hourly rate. With Metro and the growth we are facing in the area the town is dealing with many more complicated legal issues than in decades past when we were a much sleepier little town.

I know raising taxes isn’t popular and it is not a vote that I took lightly. If you go back and look at all the discussions, staff reports and PowerPoints you will see that it was not a flippant decision. Honestly, without the $1million dollar BPOL shortfall I would have likely voted against this increase, because it wouldn’t have been necessary. And I do support the projects these monies will fund. Which is ultimately why I decided to support it.

I understand that not everyone is happy with the meals tax increase; that’s just how these things go. I will still be supporting our local Herndon restaurants because this is home, and I love our local restaurant scene. Did you know that restaurants receive a 6% rebate for remitting the meals taxes they collect on our behalf on time? (This is a fairly typical practice in the commonwealth) and the large majority take advantage of this.

Please remember that since 2010 Herndon’s real estate tax RATE has not increased. In fact we decreased it once in 2011. Every single surrounding jurisdiction has raised their RE rate multiple times during that time frame, even as assessments have increased. I am proud of the fact that Herndon has worked to not put our property owners in that situation.

If you’ve read this entire post, Thank you. If you would like additional information on the discussions and reasons behind this difficult decision I’d be happy to hear from you and share more of my perspective. Thanks again for joining me in caring about our hometown. 

Photo via Town of Herndon

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The Herndon Town Council adopted a $53.9 million budget this week for fiscal year 2020, representing a 10.4 percent decrease over last year’s budget.

Although real estate taxes were unchanged this year, the town’s meals tax increased from 2.5 to 3.75 percent — a move that town officials said was necessary to fund capital improvements, the Herndon Police Department’s operations, an assistant town attorney position, and restoration of parks and recreation programs.

Fiscal year 2020’s recurring expenditures increased by 2.2 percent over last year from $35.2 million to $36.3 million. Overall, expenditures increased nearly 3 percent over last year.

Other taxes like the cigarette tax and business professional and occupational license tax remained unchanged. The water service rate increased from $5.87 in FY 2019 to $6.19 per 1,000 gallons of water consumption in FY 2020.

Recycling fees doubled from $16 to $32 per year. Personnel costs also increased by $805,359 over last year, totaling nearly $28.1 million of the overall budget.

Town officials said that this year’s budget continues to prioritize Metro planning, downtown redevelopment, the efficiency of town operations and capital improvements.

“We appreciate everyone who called, emailed, and provided in-person comments throughout the budget deliberation process,” said Mayor Lisa Merkel. “The newly-adopted budget funds the programs and service our citizens have told us are important to them.”

The next fiscal year runs from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2020.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Restaurant-goers in the Town of Herndon will likely see their total bill go up this year after the Herndon Town Council approved an increase in the town’s meals tax Tuesday night.

In a 5-2 vote, the council increased the meals tax — which covers all meal purchases at food establishments — from 2.5 to 3.75 percent. Town officials said the hike is necessary to meet a revenue shortfall for capital improvement projects in the town. Councilmembers Bill McKenna and Jennifer Baker voted against the increase.

Some business owners and Town of Herndon residents criticized the measure for putting local businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Others said the tax unfairly singles out one industry and could regressively impact people with low incomes who rely on prepared meals.

Kristen Murphy, the general manager of the Washington Dulles Marriott Suites in Herdon, said her business was being “unfairly signaled out again.” She said she has lost business because clients looking to book the hotel have expressed concerns about the town’s occupancy and meals taxes.

Although the decision was tough, Mayor Lisa Merkel said the increase was the best way to boost revenue by minimizing the impact on Town of Herndon residents and property owners. The tax would apply to anyone who purchases meals in the Town of Herndon — including the 17,000 people who visit the town.  Meals taxes are also a “predictable and stable source of revenue,” Merkel said.

“I don’t anticipate its something that will become a trend,” Merkel said, noting that other towns and cities in Virginia also levy meals taxes.

The meals tax has not gained traction in Fairfax County. Voters rejected a referendum to institute a meals tax in 2016.

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn

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The Herndon Town Council appears to be getting closer to finalizing revisions of the code of ethics — a move that some councilmembers say will ensure ethical behavior of future councils and erase a perception that the council skirts rules.

The councilmembers discussed the ordinance that would revamp their current code of ethics at last night’s Town Council work session. “I like the changes that you made,” Councilmember Signe Friedrichs told the town attorney. “They made it more easy to understand where things are.”

The ordinance would add this preamble:

WHEREAS, the proper operation of local government requires that public officials be independent, impartial and accountable to the citizens, that governmental decisions and policy be made through proper processes, that public office not be used for personal gain, and that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government and public officials; and

WHEREAS, as public officials we are charged with upholding the trust of the citizens and with obeying the law and respecting established policies and procedures; and

WHEREAS, as public officials we have taken the oath of office and have pledged that we will support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and further that we will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of our office.

NOW THEREFORE, in recognition of our obligations as citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and as public officials and citizens of the Town of Herndon, we do hereby adopt the following Code of Ethics to guide the Town’s council and council appointed board and commission members.

The rest of the ordinance also adds four more adjectives to describe how members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members should act, including: “faithfully and impartially perform their duties,” “demonstrate… independence” and “treat the public, town staff and each other in a respectful… manner.”

The councilmembers discussed how the new wording balances a need for more specific language with the concern that trying to list every single unethical behavior could end up missing some things.

The ordinance also would add numbered subheads and references to applicable sections of the Town of Herndon’s code and charter and the Code of Virginia. (The code of ethics is currently located in Article I of the second chapter under the Herndon Town Code.)

In addition to the code of ethics, Vice Mayor Sheila Olem said that she is looking forward to seeing social media guidelines.

“I think we have spent a ton of time on this, and we have a nice document here that should be — I feel like after all these discussions — pretty close, if not ready, for prime time,” Mayor Lisa Merkel said.

Image via Town of Herndon

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Updated at 9:15 a.m. on March 18 — A previous version of this story incorrectly said “Vienna” instead of “Herndon” officials. This has now been corrected. 

Some Herndon Town Council members are pushing for more robust ethics guidelines, but there’s disagreement about how best to go about doing that.

While councilmembers have agreed that revising the code of ethics is a positive step toward ensuring ethical behavior of future councils and erasing a perception that the council skirts rules, they have different ideas on what should get changed or added.

At a March 5 meeting, Councilmember Pradip Dhakal suggested borrowing from other codes of conduct, and analyzing omissions in the current code, may solve current gaps. (Councilmembers said they have been looking at the ethics codes from the Town of Amherst and Williamsburg as examples to emulate.)

Breadth and specificity dominated the March 5 debate, with some councilmembers raising concerns that trying to list every single unethical behavior could end up missing some things and creating a policy that no one would read.

For the sake of appearances, having a longer ethics code might raise some eyebrows if it’s overly detailed, one councilmember said.

“I’d be like what kind of crap is going on if they need this level of detail?” said the councilmember, who could not be positively identified on an audio recording of the meeting.

While some of the councilmembers expressed support for the current policy’s simplicity, others argued that a more in-depth code will clear up any confusion.

“We are coming from different backgrounds and sometimes common sense is uncommon,” Dhakal said. “My common sense may not be yours.”

Other possibilities floated at the March 5 meeting included defining “ethical behavior” and adding some definitions and rules that are in the state code. Creating guidelines for social media and online conduct also came up as a possible addition to the code of ethics or as a separate set of guidelines.

Vice Mayor Sheila Olem and councilmembers Cesar del Aguila and Signe Friedrichs have led the effort to revise the code.

Unethical, sketchy, and uncomfortable behavior among Herndon officials are some of the main reasons behind the push to strengthen the code. The councilmembers shared stories of unnamed former town officials who publicly berated staff, grabbed a staffer in a sexual manner, and solicited jobs from other elected officials in the performance of their official duties.

The code of ethics is currently located in Article I of the second chapter under the Herndon Town Code.

Reston Now saved you the trouble of hunting it down:

Sec. 2-5. – Code of ethics for the members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members.

(a) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall perform their duties to the very best of their abilities and demonstrate integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior in the conduct of all town business.

(b) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall treat the public, town staff and each other in a courteous manner and shall at all times refrain from abusive conduct, threatening or intimidating language or gestures, personal charges, or verbal or written attacks concerning the character or motives of other members of the town council, town boards and commissions, town staff, or the public.

(c) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall bring any concerns about the performance of a council appointee to the entire council. Concerns about the performance of a town employee shall be discussed privately with the town manager.

(d) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members should direct significant requests for information or discussions concerning town business to the town manager, who directs the day-to-day operations of the town and its employees.

(e) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall fully comply with the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Code of Virginia, §§ 2.2-3700, et seq. and the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, Code of Virginia, §§ 2.2-3100–2.2-3131, as applicable.

“One of our citizens came to a public hearing and said, ‘Pass it now!'” Mayor Lisa Merkel said at the end of the March 5 discussion. “I don’t think we need to rush into it, but [we’re] making movement in the right direction and making sure it reflects what we all really want to see in there.”

The Town of Herndon is still working on the code. At the town’s public session on Tuesday (March 12), del Aguila said that the code of ethics “is certainly coming to fruition.”

Image via Town of Herndon

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One month after Wooboi Chicken’s opening, Chef Minwoo says that the Herndon eatery still has lines out of the door in the late morning and even one diner who came down from New Jersey for a taste of the Nashville Hot Chicken.

After pop-up locations around Maryland and Virginia last summer, Wooboi Chicken officially opened a brick-and-mortar spot in early February at 139 Spring Street, Suite 1.

The chicken is free-range, does not contain antibiotics and is fried in peanut oil, according to its website. For customers with peanut allergies, Wooboi Chicken has a separate fryer that uses canola oil instead.

The concept is based on Nashville Hot Chicken, which has its roots in a woman’s attempt to get back at her cheating man by serving him a super spicy chicken.

Minwoo told Reston Now that he has thrown in his own twists, including D.C. mumbo sauce made from pineapples, distilled wine, vinegar, tomato paste; Japanese-influenced brine; and a unique breading that Minoo calls a “fusion of fine dining and generic KFC and Popeyes.”

The chicken eatery offers six different levels of heat depending on how hot customers like their chicken — the code red and code blue options are the hottest and require an extra warning: a “waiver” on a chalkboard-painted wall where diners have signed their names.

Minwoo estimates that about 10 percent of the customers try either the red or the blue option, and about 5 percent of those “brave people” successfully finish their food. (If you’re not a spice person, don’t go above a level two, Minwoo says.)

This Reston Now reporter chickened out and tried one of the milder items from the secret menu instead — the Merkaroni Salad. (Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel took to Twitter to share her excitement about having a secret menu item named after herself.)

Other secret menu items to ask for include The Kracken, which is a double chicken sandwich inspired by Paul from Weird Brothers Coffee, and the Choi Fries, which are fries with D.C. mumbo sauce, chicken, cheddar cheese and mustard.

The secret menu isn’t the only surprise. The recipes change a little bit every day, Minwoo adds.

“I’m just going to try to make the best chicken sandwich I can.”

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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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(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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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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