Eugene R. Rainville, a community activist who is considered a consensus-builder, was selected to fill the Manassas City Council seat left vacant by John P. Grzejka, who became the city's commissioner of revenue in June when former commissioner Gary Plauger died.

Rainville, a Republican, achieved political distinction last year as a member of the Elderly Housing Zoning Committee, which helped revise zoning designations for senior-citizen housing in Manassas.

"I saw him in a situation where he really was in a hot seat, yet he was so effective in gaining the confidence of everyone involved, despite their widely divergent views--he brought consensus out of chaos," said council member Judith S. Hays (R), who worked with Rainville on the zoning committee. "Gene is well-educated and very bright--a real problem solver."

Rainville was chosen unanimously from nine candidates during a closed session after the regular council meeting Monday. Council members characterized the closed session--the group's third in two weeks to discuss the appointment--as particularly grueling, due to the high quality of the candidates.

Rainville's appointment came 38 days after Grzejka stepped down, and it is the second time in four months the council has been forced to appoint a member. Earlier this year, Douglas S. Waldron (R) left the council after serving less than one year of his four-year term. In March, 25 days after the position was vacated, Hays was selected unanimously from a pool of 10 candidates--seven of whom, including Rainville, would later apply to fill Grzejka's seat. "It is unusual to go through this twice in a fairly short period of time," council member Steven Randolph (I) said. "It's like a 50-year flood twice in the same summer."

The appointment marks only the third time since the city was incorporated in 1975 that a council member has been appointed. In 1993, Harry J. Parrish II (R) was appointed to the council when member Louis Maroon died. Parrish, son of the city's first mayor, was then elected in 1996 to his current council position.

Until July 16, Rainville was a director of network integration at American Systems Corp. in Chantilly, where he had worked since 1994. Rainville lost his position due to consolidations within the firm but left it "in good stead," said the company's vice president of human resources.

On Friday, Rainville became a program manager at STG, an information technology firm in Fairfax. "We were so impressed we hired him the same day," said Fred Childress, a recruiter at STG.

Rainville has also served in the Air Force. He graduated in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in management from National-Louis University in Reston.

Until Rainville's term expires in June 2000, one-third of the six-person City Council will be have been appointed, a fact that has led to consternation among council members.

"In a democracy, we all believe wholeheartedly that the citizens should elect its representatives," Parrish said. "There must be a better way to fill vacant slots, to get the choice back in the hands of the citizens."

Under the current city charter, whenever a council member vacates his seat, the City Council must appoint someone to serve the remainder of the term. Most Virginia jurisdictions' charters allow for a special election in similar circumstances.

At Monday's meeting, Parrish proposed that Manassas change its charter to accommodate special elections when appointed council members' terms would last more than two years.

Parrish's proposal would have to be approved by the General Assembly in Richmond and could not be considered until the beginning of next year. The council has formed a committee to study the change, which wouldn't affect Rainville's appointment but could force Hays' seat to be filled in a special election in June 2000.

Rainville became involved in local politics through a grass-roots effort that began--literally--in his own back yard. Two years ago, a church that owned property near Rainville's residence on 9627 Clover Hill Road proposed building a church that could hold 800. Neighbors, fearing the church would crowd the area, formed a community group that, with Rainville as its spokesman, negotiated a compromise that reduced the size of the proposed facility. Eventually, the church decided not to build.

"Gene has an ability to look at the big picture," said Christine Finney, who worked with Rainville on the community group. "Gene listens; he gets the full story; he does his research and then he evaluates the situation to the best of his ability.

"I don't think Gene's a good politician," she added, "which makes him a good choice."