Appointing the fourth-highest vote getter may be a thing of the past, as Asheville City Council prepares to discuss a new method of selecting replacements to fill vacant Council seats.
The prospect of filling a vacated seat on City Council is one that has been visited twice since 2000 and seems likely to come up after this November’s election. Council members Holly Jones and Carl Mumpower are both seeking other offices in this election cycle, and successful campaigns on either part would necessitate the selection of a new Council member to fill out the remainder of their terms.
Council’s recent tradition has been to appoint, by Council vote, the fourth-highest vote getter in the most recent Council election to fill the vacant seat. (Three Council members are elected every two years for staggered four-year terms.) That was the case with Bryan Freeborn, who was appointed in 2005 to finish Terry Bellamy‘s term when she advanced to the mayor’s seat. But there has never been an actual policy in place, and a few Council members have expressed misgivings about the fourth-place method.
A new proposal, put forth by the Boards and Commissions subcommittee chaired by Vice Mayor Jan Davis, would treat the appointment like any commission appointment — with Council advertising for applications, conducting interviews and finally making a selection. Council is set to discuss that possibility at its Oct. 14 meeting.
Davis first introduced the proposal under new business at the end of an Aug. 19 work session, and Council quickly agreed that it wanted to hear more. Davis says the swift consensus on an issue with such political ramifications came as a surprise.
“I was amazed it didn’t get more discussion,” he told Xpress.
Davis voted against Freeborn’s appointment in 2005, saying fourth place in an election does not constitute a mandate, and he says allowing elected representatives to conduct interviews prior to a decision would be more fitting.
Freeborn lost a re-election bid in 2007, but again came in fourth. In an Aug. 21 post on the blog Scrutiny Hooligans, he said he was not planning another bid for public office, but would accept another appointment only because he would not need the orientation that a fresh appointee would require to serve only one year.
Council member Brownie Newman said the new procedure is more like what he would like to see as well, and noted the appointment would rely on other factors besides a sit-down with Council members.
“This is an inherently political decision for our body to make,” Newman said. “There’s going to be a lot of conversation in the community [about potential appointees] above and beyond this process.”
Newman, meanwhile, says he plans to explore whether the pick can be made before a departing Council member leaves his or her seat for a new office. That would mean seven votes to consider rather than six, and could sway the political direction of the final decision. The current proposal says the departing Council member would not have a say in the appointment.
“There are two people running for offices right now, and one of them has a pretty darn good chance of winning,” Newman said. “So we’re pretty much beyond this being a hypothetical.”
Under the proposed timeline, advertisements for a replacement would go out on Nov. 5, immediately after the notice of resignation from a departing Council member. Interviews would take place on Dec. 9, followed by a vote to appoint a new member during a formal session that same evening.
— Brian Postelle, staff writer