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Bookwalter

Increasing tax bills for Manassas residents is one reason Rick Bookwalter is running for City Council. 

Bookwalter, a Republican, took issue with the city's capital improvement plan, which, in recent weeks, has cost more than city leaders expected. 

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Vega / Spanberger

By Tyler Arnold

(THE CENTER SQUARE) – Candidates for Virginia’s 7th District will debate October 21, a matchup of Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Republican challenger Yesli Vega.

The exchange is sponsored by the Prince William Committee of 100. The committee has yet to announce a time or location, and we’ll update this post when it does.

The congressional race is expected to be one of Virginia’s most competitive. Democrats are trying to maintain their slim majority in the House of Representatives.

Spanberger is serving her second term representing the district, but prior to her win, the 7th had been held by Republicans since the 1970s. Although the district went for Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the district comfortably only a year later. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both list the 7th as a Democrat-leaning district for the midterm elections.

Although Spanberger has positioned herself as a moderate, she has voted with Biden’s agenda on 100% of the issues, according to a tally from the elections analysis website FiveThirtyEight. She only voted with former President Donald Trump 8.7% during her time in office. The congresswoman has supported a new federal assault weapons ban. She has supported environmental policies, but was critical of the Green New Deal, and was critical of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Vega has argued that a free market is the best way to address inflation and other economic issues. She has criticized the U.S. Treasury for printing money and said that mandates and regulations were holding back the economy. She has also supported gun rights.

The election is six weeks away on Nov. 8.

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Students at Colgan High School are urged to walk out of classes supporting queer rights.

A flier circulating the school and online promotes a rally at 9 a.m. Tuesday, September 27, outside the school at 13833 Dumfries Road in Prince William County. Students are encouraged to wear bright colors of the rainbow and protest a recent decision by the Virginia Department of Education, which shifts control of transgender issues back to parents.

Under the ruling issued this week, Virginia public schools will no longer be allowed to provide gender-affirming counseling services to students without first consulting with their parents, per new guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education.

In a shift away from the previous administration, the new guidelines state parents must be informed and allowed to object before the school provides counseling services related to gender. The guidelines say schools should designate a counselor to speak with the student and parents if the parents request.

Prince William County Public Schools spokeswoman Diana Gulotta says students who attend classes at the government school division have a constitutional right to walk out in protest, particularly on political speech issues. “This must be done safely and with minimal disruption,” Gulotta told Potomac Local News.

An email from Colgan’s principal to parents listing upcoming events at the school, like forthcoming sporting events, math tutoring, Dungeons and Dragons crochet club meetings, and the school’s Homecoming Dance, at the school, omitted the organized walkout.

More than 2,800 students attend Colgan High School.

Gulotta said Prince William County Public Schools would review the state policy changes and determine how to implement them.

“PWCS remains committed to its nondiscrimination policy inclusive of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. PWCS supports an inclusive environment for all students and staff,” Gulotta told Potomac Local News.

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Yesli Vega (R) holds a roundtable discussion at The Globe and Laurel restaurant near Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Republican congressional candidates are focused on Prince William and Stafford counties.

Yesli Vega (R), a Board of County Supervisors member seeking to flip Virginia’s 7th Congressional seat, will hold a get-out-the-vote rally tomorrow, Saturday, September 24, at her campaign headquarters outside Quantico.

The event at 9:30 a.m. at 18354 Quantico Gateway Drive in Triangle aims to rally support for Vega in eastern Prince William, which is the most populated area in the 7th District that spans 10 counties, Culpeper, and Fredericksburg, as early voting for the November 8 General Election is underway.

Vega is running against two-term Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who last week attended a celebration at the White House to celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a significant advance on congressional Democrats’ progressive plan, which aims to curb global warming, and authorizes 87,000 more IRS agents to audit citizens and businesses.

While Spanberger was at the White House celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act, news broke of continued rising costs, particularly food and housing costs rising to their most expensive levels since the Carter administration in 1979. Spanberger did not return our request for comment, asking about her support for the Inflation Reduction Act and when the bill would begin benefitting U.S. citizens.

Vega’s campaign event comes on the heels of a veterans’ roundtable held at the Globe and Laurel restaurant in Stafford County on Wednesday, September 21. The discussion ranged from the lack of services offered by the Veterans Services Administration, adjusting to civilian life, PTSD, and a discussion about a lack of accountability over the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where many served.

Last weekend, Hung Cao barnstormed Virignia’s 10th Congressional District, with stops in Haymarket, Manassas, and the Prince William County Government Center in Woodbridge. Cao is challenging two-term incumbent Democrat Jennifer Wexton. The 10th District spans five counties and includes Manassas, Manassas Park, and Leesburg.

Wexton also voted twice for the inflation reduction act. Wexton cast her vote on her behalf and for Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), who was on vacation in Europe.

The Cook Political Report shows Virginia’s 7th District leans Democrat and estimates the 10th District will remain firmly in Democratic control following the November 8 General Election.

Early voting for the November 8 General Election begins today, September 23.

Need to know election info: 

  • First day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office: Friday, September 23, 2022
  • The deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration is October 17, 2022.
  •  The deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you is October 28, 2022Your local voter registration office must receive your request by 5 p.m.
  • Voter registration offices open for early voting: Saturday, October 29, 2022.
  • The last day of in-person early voting at your local voter registration office: is Saturday, November 5, 2022, at 5 p.m.
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By Natalie Barr
Capital News Service

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23.

Voters can submit absentee ballots by mail or in person at their local registrar’s office, commonly referred to as early voting. No application or reason is necessary to vote early. Some jurisdictions may have additional satellite locations, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Early in-person voting will also be held the two Saturdays preceding Election Day. In-person early voting ends on Nov. 5, the Saturday before the election.

New this year is the ability to register to vote up to and on Election Day. Any voters who register after the Oct. 17 deadline will be given a provisional ballot. Legislators have passed voting reform measures in recent years that expand access to the polls.
VCU Votes, a student-led coalition at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, educates students on the importance of voting, according to the organization’s mission statement. The coalition recently held a student voter registration event on National Voter Registration Day.

Cameron Hart, director of partnerships for VCU Votes, said the group also promotes the importance of elections. Students need the space to educate themselves and develop their own thoughts and make their own decisions, Hart said.

“It’s very important to vote and use your voice and exercise that civic duty,” Hart said.

Many students who came to the event were already registered to vote, Hart said. Hart wants people to view voting as important for all elections, not just presidential races.

“I feel like it’s important to vote in any election, but also stressing the importance of voting locally,” Hart said. “This election is directly affecting us. If you feel a certain way about a law, voting can help express your voice in order to maybe reverse that law.”

The upcoming election will be the first time voting for physical therapy student Nikolett Kormos. Kormos, a freshman, said she registered to vote at the event.
“I think it’s super important to vote, and for young people to vote,” Kormos said. “It keeps us educated.”

Absentee ballots will be mailed starting Sept. 23 to military and overseas voters, and to anyone who has applied to receive one, according to a state Department of Elections press release.

Voters can request a mail-in absentee ballot through the Department of Elections site until Oct. 28. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by the registrar no later than noon on the third day following the election, according to the Department of Elections.

Mailed ballots also require a witness signature. Ballots can be dropped off at the registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters can direct questions to their general registrar’s office or the Department of Elections, where they can also see whattypes of identification are accepted.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Forkell Greene

Lynn Forkell Greene is seeking her first full term on the Manassas City Council.

Last fall, she beat David Farajollahi in an election to a seat on the Council to complete the final year of Michele Davis Younger’s term. Davis Younger was elected mayor and took the job in January 2021.

Forkell Greene has long worked to draw attention to the city’s infrastructure and how the local government spends taxpayer funds on capital improvement projects.

Tax bills have increased for residents before and during the pandemic. During that time,  the councilwoman has become ever more critical of Manassas’ $180 million capital improvement plan, which includes reducing capacity on city roads like Grant Avenue, expanding Dean Park, renovating the newly acquired Annaburg Manor, and renovating City Hall — a project we learned ballooned in cost to $13 million.

“I think that the Capital Improvement Plan process needs to change. And I think it’s backward right now. I think the staff begins working on projects before the residents say they want them,” said Forkell Greene. “By the time you get to a public hearing, these projects are 60% to 90% done. And so the amount of money that’s already been invested becomes a hot-button [issue] of how much do we throw away and start over.”

Work is now underway on an $11 million project to reduce Grant Avenue, between Downtown and Wellington Road, from four to two lanes. City staff argued the project would make the area more pedestrian-friendly and proceeded without holding a standalone public hearing over the objections of area residents who live in Georgetown South.

The city is adding the finishing touches on a new $42 million police station on Grant Avenue, where road crews will remove two lanes of traffic. In May 2021, the city opened a new fire station less than a mile from the new police station.

“How does this make sense?” said Forkell Greene. “We have to get to a place where we hear the word ‘no’ and pivot [to other projects]. And that’s not something our city government does very well right now.”

Last month, residents received their personal property tax bills in the mail. For the first time, car assessments increased by more than 23 percent (many reported assessment increases of more than $4,000 on cars five years or older) due to a lack of new vehicles on the market.

Forkell Greene and Theresa Coates Ellis, the two Republicans on the council  to take a vote to give taxpayers a 15% break on their bills and to mail new bills to residents. Surrounding jurisdictions like Prince William County assessed vehicles at 80% of the market rate, while Manassas assessed at the full rate.

Greene has consistently called for more public participation during City Council meetings, which are controlled by a majority of seven Democrats elected to the Council the hundreds of people that signed a petition regarding their disappointment in the personal property tax situation had been vocal back in March and April, during the budget season when all of these things were [being discussed], [Coates Ellis] and I may have been able to get something else done right,” said Forkell Greene.

In light of continued low scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests, Forkell Greene said the Manassas City Public Schools has become too political in recent years. Last year, the school division declared it is marred by rampant racism throughout its halls, and only weeks later gave its superintendent a pay raise.

In light of its declaration of racism, the student body is largely made up of Hispanic students. “We are a diverse community, and because we have different populations and cultures, sometimes the culture of education and parental involvement are different than what we’re used to,” said Forkell Greene.

For many parenrts, English is not thier primary language, and that may prevent parents from becoming involved in the school division, she adds. “If you have a lack of understanding of hte local language, then you don’t understand the expectations,” said Forkell Greene.

The City Council provides funding to the School Board, which does not have taxing authority, but cannot tell the School Board how to spend the cash.

Forkell Greene is running on a Republican slate of candidates whcih includes Coates Ellis, and Richard Bookwalter. There are three open seats on the City Council up for grabs on the November 8 General Election, for whcih early voting begins tomorrow, Friday, September 23, 2022.

Democrat Incumbent Ralph Smith, Democrats Sonia Vasquez Luna, and Dheeraj “DJ” Jagadev also seek the three open seats. They have not returned a request for comment about their campaigns.

Need to know election info: 

  • First day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office: Friday, September 23, 2022
  • The deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration is October 17, 2022.
  •  The deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you is October 28, 2022Your local voter registration office must receive your request by 5 p.m.
  • Voter registration offices open for early voting: Saturday, October 29, 2022.
  • The last day of in-person early voting at your local voter registration office: is Saturday, November 5, 2022, at 5 p.m.
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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

By Tyler Arnold

(The Center Square) – Virginia public schools will no longer be allowed to provide gender-affirming counseling services to students without first consulting with their parents, per new guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education.

In a shift away from the previous administration, the new guidelines state parents must be informed and given the opportunity to object before the school provides counseling services related to gender. The guidelines say schools should designate a counselor to speak with the student and parents together if requested by the parents.

The guidelines also say schools shall defer to parents regarding the use of pronouns, names and nicknames or whether the student identifies with a gender that is different from his or her biological sex. Schools shall also defer to parents on decisions about whether student receives counseling that encourages the student to identify with a gender that is different from his or her biological sex.

School boards will need to adopt policies that adhere to the following principle: “Parents have the right to make decisions with respect to their children.” The guidelines elaborate that parents have the right to nurture values and beliefs for their own children and make decisions for them that are consistent with their customs, faith and family culture.

“The Department also fully acknowledges the rights of parents to exercise their fundamental rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children,” the guidelines read. “The Code of Virginia reaffirms the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated. Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia.”

The guidelines say parents are the child’s most important educator and that teachers, counselors and administrators should work in partnership with them. It also states that schools should respect all students and have a right to learn without unlawful discrimination or harassment.

School boards will also not be allowed to require anyone to use someone’s preferred pronouns because the First Amendment forbids government actors from forcing a person to adhere to particular ideological beliefs. According to the guidelines, the use of preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief gender is based on personal choice, rather than biological sex.

The guidelines also say schools should respect all students and have a right to learn without unlawful discrimination or harassment. It says schools should try to accommodate any student who sincerely believes his or her gender is different than his or her biological sex.

When Gov. Glenn Youngkin ran for office, he made parental rights in education one of his biggest campaign issues. The new guidelines under his administration differ vastly from the guidelines set under former Gov. Ralph Northam, which expressly stated that schools would not need to notify parents about gender-related counseling and that schools should direct a student to resources if parents were not affirming his or her gender identity.

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Stafford County residents voiced support for school custodians as the contractor hired to clean school buildings is cutting ties with the school division.

During a recent Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting, residents used the meeting’s public comment time to offer support for school custodians whose jobs are on the line after an announcement by ABM Industries canceling its contract with the schools.

“For the last year, we’ve raised our voices in support of needed changes for custodial workers in your public schools. We celebrate the cancelation of the contract between ABM. This corporation hires and manages the workers and the school district,” said Patricia Smith, a representative of the Fredericksburg chapter of Virginia Organizing.

Smith said the county should hire the custodial workers as a way to offer transparency when it comes to worker compensation. Smith also stated that such action would prevent exploitation of the custodial staff, and the county school board was given authority for oversight.

Nancy Reeder of North Stafford is a former school counselor who had worked in the county schools for 23 years. Reeder also agreed that the county should take the reins of hiring the school custodians while acknowledging it would be a difficult matter.

“They are a part of our school community, they interact with our children, and they come in and clean up after them. We really do need to take care of them as citizens,” said Reeder.

Employees of the Maryland-based management firm spoke at a Stafford County School Board earlier this year, where over a dozen of them related stories of alleged mistreatment at the hands of ABM. Among those was a demand from the company to report to work during a snowstorm that stranded commuters and cut power to thousands of homes in January 2022, employees claimed.

A request made by Stafford County Public Schools via a press release in late August announced that the system is currently searching for custodial services after its contract with ABM had been canceled.

On August 22, ABM sent a letter informing the school system that they would terminate the contract between the two parties. No reason was given in the letter for the termination. Potomac Local News attempted to contact ABM on this matter but has received no response.

The school system signed its previous contract with ABM in June 2020 and amended it in April 2022.

“The School Board and I want to reassure the custodians working in our schools that they are valued by the school system,” stated Stafford Superintendent Dr. Thomas W. Taylor in the press release. “This Notice of Cancellation does not reflect the school system’s view of the work ethic of the custodians.”

ABM will continue to provide custodial services to Stafford County Schools until the official cancelation date on December 20.

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