Virginia Beach councilman wants state to allow for local term limits, ban on city workers holding office

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — City Councilman Aaron Rouse wants the Virginia General Assembly to give the City of Virginia Beach power to institute term limits and limits on who can run for City Council positions.

Rouse included both ideas in the city’s legislative agenda that is currently still in the development stage. The annual agenda is used to communicate the city’s priorities to state lawmakers for the legislative session. Virginia is what is known as a Dillon Rule state, meaning localities have authority to the extent the General Assembly has approved.

One of Rouse’s proposals would require a change in Virginia’s code, another would require the multi-year process of amending the state’s Constitution.

In a City Council meeting last week, Rouse said he made the proposals after receiving feedback from constituents about “potential conflicts of interests.” It became clear fairly quickly that the ideas won’t receive full City Council support.

“I hope it’s the will of this body to reject this,” Councilman Rocky Holcomb said when bringing up Rouse’s proposal on limitations to who can run.

Specifically, Rouse’s request is that state lawmakers give City Council the authority to “prohibit a city employee and an employee of an agency whose budget is set by the governing body, including employees of constitutional officers and the school board, from being a candidate for election or appointment to the office of mayor or member of the city council.”

Holcomb, who has been with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office since 1991, was recently appointed to fill the seat of former Councilmember Jessica Abbott until a special election can be held.

“I hope this isn’t a personal attack on me, I truly do,” Holcomb told 10 On Your Side on Monday.

Rouse said in that same meeting last week that it “wasn’t personal” but that “I’ve heard from the community about conflicts of interest, or potential conflicts of interest. Where you have members of this body where the city council dictates their budget.”

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The City Council does help set the local funding for the sheriff’s budget, the other half is provided by the state.

Holcomb has already made clear how he will handle items having to do with his employer.

“Money’s coming from the city to the sheriff’s office, I don’t plan to have any influence on that. I won’t vote on that, I’ll abstain from it,” Holcomb said. “We have conflict of interest laws and conflict of interest rules that we apply.”

Holcomb wouldn’t be the first council member in the region that could theoretically have a say in his employer’s funding. Councilman Tommy Smigiel of Norfolk is a principal at Norfolk Public Schools.

“We talk about diversity, we need to talk about diversity on council and diversity is not just gender or race or sexual orientation. It’s also gender of experience. And gender of workplace history and workplace knowledge,” Holcomb said. “Don’t go after the 17,000-plus city employees and school board employees that may inspire to run one day and have a voice one day. Don’t hold them down and disenfranchise them.”

Mayor Bobby Dyer and Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson supported Holcomb in opposition to including the request in the legislative packet.

Rouse’s other proposal would target some of the council members who have spent, in some cases, nearly half their lives sitting on the dais.

“The City Council requests the General Assembly begin the process of amending the Virginia
Constitution to allow the General Assembly to impose term limits for the City Council of Virginia
Beach at the request of the locality,” the packet draft reads.

Rouse posted on Facebook that he believes the council should be limited to two or three four-year terms maximum. Under those terms, half of the current council would be ineligible to serve.

City Council will host a public hearing on the legislative agenda Tuesday at 6 p.m. in council chambers. A vote is not scheduled until November.

While Rouse did not respond to 10 On Your Side requests for an interview, he did make his intentions known in the council workshop.

“If it’s the will of the body to not accept this legislative package, that’s perfectly fine,” Rouse said. “I will have sponsors in the Senate, as well as the General Assembly to carry this bill. So, regardless if we accept this or not, that’s perfectly fine.”

To that, Holcomb snapped back: “Mr. Mayor, if we are going to take that approach, why are we going to have a legislative agenda if we are just going to freelance everything throughout the city?”

Rouse responded: “Well this approach has been it because we haven’t even had public comment and you guys already said we aren’t going to happen.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly stated when Holcomb started with the sheriff’s office. WAVY-TV regrets the error.

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