Council member who sued town loses election, Smithfield sees low turnout

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

CLAREMONT — A controversial Claremont Town Council member lost her seat in last week’s election, receiving only 25 votes.

The town of Dendron also saw a shake-up on its Town Council, while Smithfield had one of its lowest turnouts, with three incumbents running unopposed. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Claremont

There were five incumbents and one new candidate running for five seats on Claremont’s Town Council. The new candidate, Michael D. Harrison, brought in the second highest number of votes of any candidate with 67. This pushed incumbent Skinner out of her seat.

She was gracious in defeat.

“He is a people-person and a representative of the people and is very community-oriented,” Skinner said of Harrison last week.

According to the State Department of Elections, Harrison was elected Claremont’s mayor in 2006 and has previously served on Town Council. Skinner said he provided guidance to her when she first took her seat in 2014.

Skinner came into last week’s election after testifying against Claremont’s mayor, town clerk and a fellow town council member in March. Skinner was suing the town she represents, and a Council member, for alleged violations of the Freedom of Information Act. Skinner lost when the judge called her case trivial, and said she was filing too many requests for the small town staff to handle. She plans to appeal the decision.

It was the second time she had sued the town for FOIA violations. She won the first case in 2014, but was not on Town Council during that trial.

On the stand in March, Skinner said she needed the documents, which ranged from financial documents to lists of what former employees took when they left, to do her job as a local representative.

Testimony from the defense said the town worked with Skinner on a lot of the requests, until she allegedly became upset when the town clerk told her to wait for a document instead of receiving it herself.

But Skinner doesn’t know if the trial played a role in her loss to Harrison. She said he is a local, she is a transplant, and a lot of people in the community, including her, think he has done a good job as a representative in the past. Harrison did not respond to a request for comment.

Skinner said she plans to continue her involvement with local politics, saying she will still attend Town Council meetings where she plans on “fighting for the people’s rights.”

Smithfield

In Smithfield, 121 people came out to vote in the May 3 election. Results on the Virginia Department of Elections website only go back to 2000 for the town. Of the results available, none were as low as last week’s turnout. The second lowest was 2000 when 430 votes were tallied. Typically, there are usually more than a thousand votes cast for town council.

The incumbents went into the election unopposed, so all faced easy victory regardless of turnout.

Randy Pack, Michael Smith and Denise Tynes all return to their seats.

There were nine write-in votes, including two for Tim Hillegass, who ran last minute bar-side write-in campaign, as well as Dave Wooley, Mike Jankee, Doug Jett, Wayne Hall, Lawrence Pitt, Lilton Marks and Roger Rabitt.

Pitt recently lost a bid for the Smithfield District Board of Supervisors seat. Jett and Hall had run for town council in the past.

Surry

In Surry, all five candidates ran unopposed as well, but one new face joined the Town Council. Milton Berryman will replace William Roach, who has served on the council since being elected in 2008. Will Gwaltney Jr. will continue to be the mayor in Surry after receiving 25 votes last week.

Dendron

Dendron experienced the most turnover last week with five new faces on their Town Council: Larry Clark, Amelia Jensen, Hunter Lackey, Willie Richardson Jr. and Kevin Spain. All of the incumbents ran to retain their seats, but only one remained after a close election that came down to win/loss margins of less than 10 votes for all the seats. Carmen Judkins, Juanita Mason, Nancy Overton and LaRita T. Pierce were the incumbents who lost — there was an open seat prior to the election. Willie Turner will be the only incumbent council member returning. Wallace Faison Jr. won the race for mayor in Dendron with 50 votes.  {/mprestriction}

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