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Stafford board takes no action on Phillips

October 10, 2012 12:10 am

BY LINDLEY ESTES
BY LINDLEY ESTES

It was business as usual at Tuesday night's Stafford County School Board meeting even without the presence of member Doreen Phillips, whose seat on the board has been called into question recently after she changed her legal address.

Phillips, the Hartwood District representative since 2006, now has an address in the city of Fredericksburg and is registered to vote at that address, according to a letter sent to her last week by Stafford Voter Registrar Greg Riddlemoser.

In the letter he asked Phillips "to formally acknowledge that you have vacated your elected position."

Riddlemoser sent a similar letter to the clerk of the School Board and said the board might want to review votes she took over the last several months, because records indicate she has not been a Hartwood resident since June.

State code requires elected officials to be eligible to vote in the district they represent throughout their tenure.

Phillips could not be reached Tuesday night to find out why she missed the meeting.

Phillips has said she has applied to change her voter registration back to the county. Though she co-owns a house in the city, she is also leasing space on Poplar Road in the Hartwood District. She said she spends time at both.

As of Tuesday, Phillips' name was not among Stafford's 82,000 registered voters. Registrar Greg Riddlemoser said he could not disclose if she had submitted an application for registration in the county.

The School Board did not have discussion of Phillips' seat on its agenda Tuesday night.

Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson said that according to counsel from attorney Patrick Lacy, the board does not have jurisdiction to vacate the seat.

Only a circuit court judge or the individual elected official can vacate the seat, Johnson said, referring to Lacy's opinion.

She said the board is "following counsel's advice."

Efforts to reach representatives from the State Board of Elections for comment were unsuccessful.

Dave Andrews, a former registrar in Williamsburg, agreed that it's up to the court to declare a seat vacant--not a registrar.

"The code is pretty clear, if you move and if you're an elected official, you're no longer eligible to serve in your seat," said Andrews, who lives in Spotsylvania County.

But anything dependent on that registration should be determined by a judge. A message left with the court was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Steve Albertson, vice chairman of the Stafford Electoral Board said that Riddlemoser consulted with the three members of the Electoral Board prior to sending letters to Phillips and the clerk of the School Board.

Albertson said, "It was our sense that we should tell someone."

They authorized the notice to the School Board, which was sent Oct. 1. Albertson said that the School Board needed to be informed prior to the circuit court.

"The circuit court has nothing to do with it until the School Board petitions them for a writ of election" to fill the vacant seat, he said.

"It is a fact when a person moves away, the seat is vacant. ," Albertson said. "With the info we had, it didn't seem to be the right thing to ignore it."

And if the School Board takes no action regarding Phillips' seat?

"If the School Board wants to let that go, that's the School Board's political decision," he said. "We've done our end. It's out of the Electoral Board's hands."

Phillips, 49, is in the middle of her second term. She first held the seat in 2006, and was re-elected in 2009. Her term ends in December 2013.

Between June and September, Phillips changed her address with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Postal Service and the state Board of Elections, according to Riddlemoser's letter, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

She had owned a home with her husband on Coakley Lane in Stafford from 2000 until it was sold in May, according to property records.

Phillips is listed as an owner of a home she bought in November on Altoona Drive in Fredericksburg. Phillips said last week that she is going through a divorce, along with other personal issues.

Staff reporter Katie Thisdell contributed to this story.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976
Email: lestes@freelancestar.com





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