Shearer In ‘Sponge’ Mode
After Successful City Council Election, It’s Time To Learn The Ropes
Posted: November 17, 2012
HARRISONBURG — The honeymoon isn’t over quite yet for Abe Shearer.
The political neophyte is still basking in his election to City Council last week in his first run for elective office.
But the time will soon come when real work must begin and the people who supported him will want results.
Shearer, 24, was the only non-incumbent of the three winners in the eight-person council race Nov. 6, and he says he is well aware of the challenges he faces as the “young person” on council.
“Right now, you’re a local celebrity,” he said, recalling a conversation he had with someone earlier this week. “But when you go on council, it could go both ways. … It took me about a week to dissect that this was real and the next four years of my life would be different.”
Yet Shearer, who garnered the second-most votes in the election, says he is as energized to hold a seat on council as he was in running for it. The time between now and Jan. 2, when he officially takes office, is “sponge” time, he says — meeting with as many community leaders, city department heads and area politicians as possible to better know Harrisonburg and its issues.
“I thrive off of change,” Shearer said. “I thrive off of new things. … I’m excited about it.”
Joining ‘Collegial’ Crew
Shearer, running on a campaign to improve education and infrastructure, was elected to council along with incumbents Mayor Richard Baugh and Councilman Kai Degner, who will be sworn in for their second four-year terms Jan. 2, the first business day of the year.
Along with Baugh, Degner and Shearer, Councilmen Ted Byrd and Charles Chenault, whose terms expire at the end of 2014, round out the five-member panel starting in 2013.
Because Shearer is the only newcomer, council will have the most continuity it’s had in eight years. In every previous election since 2004, at least two new council members were elected.
Councilman David Wiens, the other incumbent whose seat was up this year, chose not to run for a second term.
Chenault praised his soon-to-be colleague and looks forward to working with him.
“He’s young, smart and energetic — probably everything I’m not,” joked Chenault, 59.
Shearer said he leaned on Chenault and former council members for advice during his campaign. One reason Shearer thinks he has what it takes to be a strong public servant is his willingness to ask questions — an attribute that plays into his self-described “people’s person” personality.
“I don’t think you want a council member who doesn’t talk to you,” Shearer said.
Added Chenault: “We’re a pretty collegial council and I think he’s going to fit right into that. I think we’ll pick up right where we left off.”
Baugh and Degner are Democrats, while Byrd is a Republican and Chenault and Shearer are independents.
Though none of Byrd’s fellow Republicans — Rodney Eagle, Anthony Bailey and Christine Johnson — was elected to council, he thinks the panel is in good shape with its four veterans and Shearer, who can bring “some fresh ideas,” he said.
“On the local level, I guess people are pretty much happy with the direction council is going,” Byrd said.
Shearer is a math teacher at Skyline Middle School, giving council its first city employee in recent memory.
That could lead to possible conflicts of interest with school-related decisions, which at the council level are basically limited to construction and the budget.
Shearer said he is aware that he may have to recuse himself from certain votes or seek advice from the city attorney when he’s not sure.
“I have the utmost confidence in the council we have already that if I were to recuse myself, they would do the right thing,” Shearer said.
For budget matters, City Council could take separate votes: one on the city budget with Shearer, and another on the school budget without him.
Shearer notes that if he voted on a city budget that includes school funding, he would only be allocating money to schools, and not directing how that funding is spent. The Harrisonburg School Board makes that decision.
Mayor Selection Coming
Council will hold a reorganization meeting Jan. 2 to appoint members to various city and regional boards and commissions. A mayor will also be selected.
In Harrisonburg, the council appoints a mayor within its ranks every two years.
Baugh said he would accept the role again if the panel wanted him to. But, as of Thursday, he and other council members say they had not given the issue much thought.
Shearer said he is not ready to say yes or no to the job if one of his council colleagues recommended him for the post.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com