Story by Chris Graham
Constitutional-office races are generally afterthoughts – if they’re even given that much thought.
At best you’ll see a heated race when a long-time revenue commissioner or sheriff or treasurer decides to retire – but even then, the issues, such as they are, come down to ones of personality.
Which is why the commissioner of the revenue and treasurer races on the ballot in Staunton this fall are so interesting.
Incumbent commissioner of the revenue Ray Ergenbright and incumbent treasurer Elnora Hazlett have both been under heavy fire in the local news media in the past several months – Ergenbright for, it was reported, holding up the development of a new financial-software system, and Hazlett for taking her issues with a Staunton City Council decision that transferred some of her powers to the city finance office to court.
The media firestorm spread quickly – and, perhaps not surprisingly, both Ergenbright and Hazlett will face two challengers in the Nov. 8 general election.
Of note: All four of the challengers want to bring peace back to City Hall.
“The discourse back and forth isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. But at the end of the day, we have to come back together,” treasurer candidate Rick Johnson told The Augusta Free Press.
“I see myself as being able to bring everybody back together,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to go in with any preconceived attitudes about anybody and how they do their jobs. My first question is going to be, what is the job? And the second question is going to be, how we can best and most effectively accomplish the job?”
Commissioner of the revenue candidate Maggie Ragon said the issue of harmony in City Hall “is the key issue in the campaign.”
“The ability of constitutional officers and city officials to have a good working relationship is crucial. And people are telling me that they’re fed up with what has been going on,” Ragon told the AFP.
“They know that they hadn’t had any problems here before, and that they don’t see these kinds of things happening in other localities. There had to have been some kind of breakdown in the system for this to occur, and they want to see whatever the issue is that led to it resolved,” Ragon said.
Ergenbright, for his part, said the talk from candidates who “say their primary focus is on making sure that the commissioner’s office gets along with the city manager and city council” is “all well and good,” “but what that doesn’t take into account is that we as constitutional officers are the check and balance to the council and the city manager.”
“It’s our constitutional duty to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We can’t just overlook that responsibility in the name of wanting to get along with City Hall. It’s our elected responsibility to serve our constituents,” Ergenbright said.
Hazlett said she agrees with the notion offered by her challengers “that we all want to get along.”
“That’s everybody’s goal, to make government work as efficiently as it can. But when you notice something that isn’t working right, you need to speak up,” Hazlett told the AFP.
Treasurer candidate Dolores Duncan said she sees the goals of the treasurer office and City Hall “being one and the same.”
“We’re elected by the people for the people,” Duncan told the AFP. “Our interests should be the same. We shouldn’t have to sue people to protect our interests. Doesn’t she realize that she’s suing the people of Staunton? That she’s suing herself?”
Ragon sounds like she views the responsibilities of the commissioner of the revenue in much the same way.
“What it boils down to is that it’s the responsibility of the commissioner of the revenue to keep the personal information of the citizens confidential while at the same time providing city officials with the information that they need to budget money for the provision of public services to the taxpayers. It’s a delicate balance, but it can be done, and it must be done,” Ragon said.