Key wins in the Nov. 6 election in Manassas mean the City Council will be majority Democrat for the first time in the city’s history.
Voters re-elected Democratic council member Ken Elston and elected two new council members, Democrat Michelle Davis-Younger and Republican Theresa Coates Ellis.
When the new council members take office in January, Elston and Davis-Younger will join Pamela Sebesky and Mark Wolfe as the four Democrats on the six-member board.
In the spring, the council will need to approve the fiscal 2019-20 budget, which begins July 1.
In addition, the council is considering a renewal of a three-year revenue-sharing agreement between the city and Manassas City Public Schools. The city allocates local funding to the school division, which also receives state and federal funding.
Republican Mayor Hal Parrish cannot vote on the budget — or any items that levee a tax or are over $500. That means the council needs at least four votes to pass a budget. Parrish can vote on other non-budget items only to break a tie.
Parrish said that since Manassas is a medium-sized city, it’s still small enough for people to know one another “and call it their community.”
“Just because people run as ‘Rs’ and ‘Ds’ doesn’t mean they may take a specific action,” he said. “They may be more attuned to do certain things, because they think in certain ways, but I think the council will be a very deliberative body whether they are Rs or Ds. They are very knowledgeable. I expect they’ll dig in and make the best decisions they can.”
Davis-Younger, who owns a human resource consulting company, said she was elected to serve and be the voice of all Manassas residents. She is the first woman of color elected to the council, she said.
“While that’s historic, we all want what’s best for the city,” she said. “I’m using my vote and my voice with the city residents in mind, regardless of party affiliation.”
She said she’d like to see more people speaking during citizen’s time at council meetings.
With the $3 billion expansion of Micron Technology’s Manassas facility and Amazon’s announcement to move half of its second headquarters to Arlington County, she said that could mean more people who move to Manassas will commute by driving or taking the Virginia Railway Express.
“But we’ve got to get ready,” she said.
Wolfe said the city has changed in the last 15 years. “It’s obviously a historic event in Manassas,” he said about the November election. “It reflects an evolution of the community. I can remember a time when it was impolite to have a Democratic yard sign; you never saw a Democratic yard sign in the city.”
Deciding how much local funding should be allocated to the school division will be a key issue, he said, adding that teacher pay is a critical part of attracting teachers and being regionally competitive.
“No one sits there and says, ‘Teachers don’t deserve a raise,’ but everyone sits there and says, ‘How are we going to pay for it?’” he said.
Another issue the council will have to tackle is how to fund replacing Jennie Dean Elementary, located at 9601 Prince William St. After consultants evaluated the elementary school, the school division decided it needs to be replaced, said Andy Hawkins, the school division’s executive director of finance and operations.
The school board finance committee and the city council finance committee have met multiple times this year and discussed the next three-year funding agreement between the city and school division. The committees have also discussed how the city and school division should fund replacing the elementary school.
Elston, who has served on the council since 2014, said the council has worked together in a bipartisan manner. Elston is also the director of George Mason University’s School of Theater.
“We’ve succeeded with conversation; I hope that is what really continues,” he said. “I hope adding new perspective on the council is a good thing. I appreciate we have more women and more diversity than we did before; hopefully we can think better as a group and really represent our citizens.”
Elston said he’s pushed for years for increased transparency as the council considers the budget.
That also includes transparency with the school board, he said.
“Hopefully we will keep going in that direction,” he said. “So the citizens know why we’re making the decisions we’re making.”