After a lengthy debate on how best to fill a vacancy on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, city officials have decided to rely on a process used in the past in which local citizens nominate themselves.
Those interested in serving as the at-large representative on the five-member board are invited to submit a letter formally expressing their interest and a brief resume to the city clerk’s office in the Municipal Building before an Aug. 15 deadline. Materials sent by mail must be postmarked by that date.
Persons throwing their names into the hat for the commissioners to consider also will be required to speak before them in a public setting in September, under the process approved during a meeting Thursday night. They can include residents from all parts of the city due to the “at-large” nature of the open seat.
While all that might sound short and simple, the matter in which it was decided was anything but — with the issue of filling the seat formerly occupied by Mayor Ron Niland dominating Thursday’s meeting. It also included Commissioner Marie Wood being elected as mayor pro tem.
Niland was elected to a four-year term as Mount Airy’s at-large commissioner in November 2019 and also served as mayor pro tem, or vice mayor, who presides in the absence of the city’s chief executive. He filled both roles for about seven months after the resignation of Mayor David Rowe last October for health reasons.
In May, Niland was appointed mayor by the other council members, leaving open both the at-large and mayor pro tem slots.
Although replacing commissioners who leave office before their terms end is nothing new for Mount Airy, the latest vacancy presents a twist because of a recent decision to shift city elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years.
The next municipal election will be conducted in 2022, meaning that the person appointed as at-large commissioner to fill out Niland’s unexpired term can seek re-election then for a two-year period, based on Thursday night’s discussion.
That accounts for an extra year being added to the end of the normal four-year election cycle for at-large commissioner — which would have concluded in 2023— due to the change to even-numbered years.
Another oddity surrounding the present vacancy concerns the fact that the filing period for the 2022 election will begin this December due to Mount Airy requiring primaries when three or more candidates vie for a particular seat. This schedule provides for a primary possibly being held early next year.
Before the board settled on the application method Thursday night, Commissioner Steve Yokeley moved to delay deciding on a replacement process until after the candidates’ filing period.
“And maybe we can appoint one of them,” said Yokeley, who reasoned that the process ultimately chosen likely would take a couple of months anyway.
Commissioner Jon Cawley seemed to voice the prevailing opinion of the board on this issue in pointing out that such an appointment at the filing stage could be viewed as an outright endorsement of one candidate in the election over others.
A preference was expressed Thursday night that the at-large appointee also be willing to seek the seat in the election.
“I don’t want to appoint someone that doesn’t want to run for re-election,” Yokeley said.
“We need to get somebody that’s serious about the job,” Wood remarked.
“There should be a large group of people, hopefully, to choose from,” Yokeley said of the potential pool of applicants for the commissioners to evaluate for the appointment.
“Several have come to me,” Niland said, but only two persons publicly have shown interest in the position, who each has been the at-large commissioner in the past, Deborah Cochran and Teresa Lewis. Cochran also is a former Mount Airy mayor.
She and Lewis were in the audience Thursday night.
The move to require applicants to openly address the board and make their case for being appointed was added to the application mix at the urging of Yokeley.
Officials acknowledged Thursday night that one problem they face in filling council vacancies is state law doesn’t prescribe a procedure for this, and is only concerned about the replacement occurring within a “reasonable” time, according to City Attorney Hugh Campbell.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Niland said.
Letters of interest and resumes can be emailed to the clerk at email@example.com and also mailed the conventional way, according to information released Friday from City Hall.
The regular address for that is: Attention Nicki Brame, 300 S. Main St./P.O. Box 70, Mount Airy, NC, 27030.
Application material may be dropped off in person to Brame in the Municipal Building at 300 S. Main St.
The information from City Hall states that candidates who submit letters of interest and resumes will be expected to speak at the Sept. 2 meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to highlight their qualifications and interest in filling the vacant seat.
Mayor pro tem
The selection of a new mayor pro tem Thursday night by the commissioners proved to be less complicated.
Commissioner Tom Koch nominated Cawley for that role, which involves filling in when the mayor is absent — including presiding over council meetings or representing the city government at public events.
Cawley then nominated Wood, who was chosen mayor pro tem. Cawley explained afterward that he didn’t really want the job anyway and was surprised to be nominated.
Koch said he sensed this and despite having nominated Cawley voted for Wood along with other commissioners in a good-natured process.
Wood thanked her colleagues for giving her this opportunity. “I will do the best job I can,” she assured them.
“We do appreciate you being willing to serve in that capacity,” Niland told Wood.