When local theater buff Meyer (Mike) Cohen led his band of merry thespians from the Fairfax City Council chambers last week, he was ecstatic.
And with good reason. Moments earlier, the council had voted 5-2 to give the non-profit Fairfax Community Theatre Group a vacant city-owned house as its permanent home.
It was Kutner House, a white frame building off Rte. 50. If local legend is to be believed, it once served as the county poor house, a house of prostitution and a secretarial school. Several years ago, the city bought Kutner House and 13 surrounding acres for $280,000. The grounds now serve as Kutner recreational park, but the hourse has proved to be of little use to the city.
After the council meeting last week, the actors rejoiced. At last they could kiss goodbye the two small school auditoriums they had been using. They had even selected a name for the road they would build to the theater -- "The Great White Way."
Their celebration, however, was short-lived.
While the players were partying, a Fairfax City resident was doing some calculations. The next day the citizen, who is unidentified, called the city manager's office charging the council vote as invalid. The puzzled city manager relayed the message to the city attorney. The city attorney was amazed -- but he had to agree with the caller.
The caller had pointed out that the Virginia State Code requires an affirmative vote by three-quarters of the governing municipal body before city property can be turned over to private citizens, in this case, the theater group. And, the caller pointed out, three-quarters of the seven-member Fairfax City Council would be 5 1/4 members -- a quarter of a vote more than the plan to donate Kutner House had gotten.
City attorney William Roeder furiously searched his law books for a legal precedent. He found only one -- an Oklahoma case that established the very point the caller was making: when a percentage of members results in a fraction, the fraction should be counted as a whole. In Fairfax County, it meant that 6 -- not 5 -- votes were needed to approved the house donation. Before the vote, Roeder had ruled just the opposite, that the fraction should be not be counted, and thus the 5 1/4 should be rounded down to 5.
"What can I say, I was remiss in my original decision," Roeder said earlier this week. "Somehow it's always the things that don't seem terribly important which wind up being important. . . ."
Last weekend, the City Council voted to reconsider the future the Kutner House at its meeting April 7. If the vote remains 5-2. the mayor, under parliamentary procedure, would have to decide if the motion had passed. If he says it has, however, Roeder said the council would leave itself open to litigation on the matter.