Elkton’s VanReenen resigns
Supported challengers who lost Tuesday election
— Town Commissioner DJ VanReenen, who has been the vocal opposition to Mayor Rob Alt’s administration since being elected two years ago, abruptly announced his resignation one day after the challengers he supported lost the town election to incumbents.
After congratulating leagues Earl Piner and Charles Givens on their re- election, VanReenen announced his decision during the town meeting Wednesday night.
“I have tried to make the changes that I said I would, I have done everything that I said and I’ve tried to do everything that I said I could for the last two years. The road map is already set out for the next two years,” he said. “At this time, I am relinquishing my seat as town commissioner.”
After his announcement, VanReenen left the meeting due to a work engagement, leaving the audience, including his fellow elected officials, speechless for a time.
“I think we’re all as speechless as everyone out in the room right now,” Alt said
after VanReenen’s nouncement.
VanReenen’s decision came as to a surprise to everyone, Givens added.
On Thursday, VanReenen said there were a “multitude” of reasons of why he resigned.
“After talking to a lot of people, there’s absolutely nothing I can do with the way the board sits to make any type of effective change,” he said. “It’s been a 4-1 vote for the last two years, so that’s a fairly clear road map for the next two years that it’s gonna be a lot of sleepless nights and frustration.”
VanReenen backed the two newcomers, Bob Gorman and Chris Zeauskas, during the municipal election for Givens’ and Piner’s seat, even writing an endorsement letter to the Whig and appearing publicly with them at campaign events. Ultimately, however, longtime commissioners Givens and Piner drew considerable support for the community, earning about 57 percent of the vote.
VanReenen said he did everything he said he was going to do over the past two years trying improve things in town and making sure a “path is laid for the success
an- of Elkton long-term.”
“I’ve fought the board tooth and nail for the last two years to get it right the way I see it,” he said.
VanReenen said he voted for plans that he thought would benefit the town in the long run, such as installing a solar panel array in 2015, approving a mini Grand Prix race downtown that is scheduled for October and the ColorVibe 5K Race that recently saw its second iteration held, among others.
But he said he also voted against the things he thought would not benefit the town, such as the townbacked loan program promoted by Alt and funding given to the Elkton Chamber and Alliance to rent a West Main Street property to deny other potential tenants from occupying it.
He also believes the current fiscal year budget is “bloated,” and is concerned with the financial health of the town. VanReenen also did not support Alt’s proposal for the fiscal year 2017 budget, saying there is too much overspending in the budget and the use of a “line item rebate” hides the true cost of un-budgeted needs that could deplete the town’s reserve funds.
On his Facebook page, he wrote, “Even now the Town continues to spend our tax dollars at an unbridled pace, to include another year using Town savings of $1.7 million to cover the bills. The savings is quickly drying up and the only way it will be replaced by the board is through raising taxes.”
Although he has resigned, he does not want his supporters to feel abandoned by him. He said he called out the improprieties, the things that would benefit the town and things that would not benefit the town for the past two years.
VanReenen said his plans moving forward include focusing on his two careers, which include the management at Williams Chevrolet dealership and running a first-aid supply business. He said he has no plans to run in the next commissioner or mayoral elections in two years.
Although, VanReenen will no longer be with the board, Alt wishes him well.
“I hope all is well for him,” he said Thursday.
Alt said he was “shocked” by VanReenen’s resignation, and did not know he was planning to do so. He added that he’s never been involved in an election where a sitting board member did not support the incumbents, and that fact would have taken some time to “mend that fence.”
On Thursday, Lewis George, town administrator, said the mayor and board have not selected anyone to fill the vacant seat.
Alt said “it is definitely too soon” to think about who would fill VanReenen’s seat, but added that it would be a joint decision by the board. According to the town charter, the mayor must recommend an appointee to finish the remaining two years of VanReenen’s term and he or she must be approved by the majority of the board.
Meanwhile, a public hearing on Alt’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal was held Wednesday night after VanReenen’s resignation.
The $13.4 million proposal is almost $125,000 more than the current fiscal budget and requires $1.785 million from the reserve fund to balance. The mayor’s budget included a 3 percent salary increase for all non-law enforcement officers. Members of the Elkton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 124 are not scheduled to receive a cost-of-living adjustment in the fiscal year 2017 budget, but each officer will receive a 3 percent increase on their anniversary date, per the negotiated agreement with the town. Their contract expires in June 2017.
No one from the public made any comments during the hearing. The budget is scheduled to be considered by the board on June 1, the same day that Piner and Givens will be sworn into new four-year terms.