Three years into her second term on the Asheville City Council, Holly Jones has opted for a change of venue. Backed by voters who propelled her to victory on election night, Jones will now claim a seat on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. But that means City Council must find someone to serve out the final year of her term.
On Oct. 14, Council members voted to try a new system for choosing colleagues under such circumstances, and the process is already under way.
The day after the election, the city officially put out the call for a new Council member. And on Nov. 6, Jones submitted her letter of resignation, effective Dec. 1 (the day she is slated to be sworn in as a commissioner). Any city resident who’s eligible to vote and who’d like to be considered for the seat can request an application from the city clerk’s office, due back by noon on Wednesday, Nov. 26. The application includes five essay questions culled from a list of 14 submitted by Council members back in mid-October. City Clerk Maggie Burleson will confirm the candidates’ eligibility before sending them on to Council members.
In a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 2, Council members will hold a formal vote to determine whom to interview. Then, on Dec. 9, they’ll conduct those interviews and, in a concurrent formal session, vote to select the seventh City Council member. The swearing in will take place a few days later.
Vice Mayor Jan Davis, who proposed the system, said the idea is to have the new Council member on board in time for the annual retreat in January.
The new method represents a departure from the approach taken in 2001 and 2005. In both those cases, a sitting Council member was elected mayor, and the vacant Council seat went to the unsuccessful candidate who drew the most votes in the Council races. Now, however, it’s been a year since the last City Council contests, when Bryan Freeborn lost the seat he’d been appointed to two years earlier after Council member Terry Bellamy was elected mayor. Freeborn has said he would reluctantly fill Jones’ seat if asked, noting that with only one year remaining on the term, the appointee needs to be able to hit the ground running. But Davis, who voted against Freeborn’s appointment in 2005, said that picking him now would be inappropriate, since so much time has passed since voters last weighed in on Council candidates.
A few members of the public have called for holding a special election to determine who fills the seventh seat, but Council members haven’t publicly discussed that option. Davis, however, has dismissed it as too cumbersome and expensive, especially considering that there’s only a year left on Jones’ term.
Jones, meanwhile, has her own hopes for whoever fills her seat: a woman who shares her views on affordable housing and other social issues. “Somebody like me!” she exclaimed at her victory party on election night. And since the actual selection will be made after her resignation takes effect, Jones will not have a say in choosing her replacement, though she did submit potential essay questions along with her colleagues.