Last month, Dan Coleman announced that he would be resigning from the Board of Aldermen and moving to Australia in January 2013.   When Dan called to tell me the news, he explained that Paula (his wife) had accepted a position at Monash University in Melbourne.  As the word spread, the community tried to figure out how our Board would fill this vacancy.  A few folks and some media at first thought that the position would be filled by appointment, but they were soon corrected as to the proper procedure.  Because there will be more than a year left in Dan’s term when he resigns, a special election will be scheduled to fill his seat.

How did we end up with this time-consuming and expensive process for filling a vacancy on the Board?   Not yet a member of the Board, I was actually involved in the process that led to this change.  In 2006, a vacancy occurred on the Board of Aldermen when Mark Chilton was elected mayor, and the Board went through an appointment process to fill his seat.  There was much lobbying at the time that the fourth place finisher should be appointed to fill the vacancy.  However, after interviewing twelve candidates for the seat (one of whom was the fourth place finisher), the Board instead deadlocked for two nights between Dan and me before the Mayor suggested throwing out our names and turning to a third candidate.  When that suggestion was proposed, Randee Haven O-Donnell changed her vote from me to Dan, and he became the newest member of the Board.  I joined him when I was elected in 2007. 

Several months after Dan was appointed, the Board, still feeling the ill effects of what they had gone through, began discussions to change the process, eventually voting to amend the Town Charter to fill vacancies on the Board of Aldermen by special election when more than a year remained in a term.  The changes were made to the charter in 2007.  Ironically, Dan’s resignation will create the first instance where it is used.

Of note, we on the Board cannot schedule a special election until the meeting after the resignation occurs.   In other words, nothing is officially set into motion until the actual resignation.

If you want more detail, here are the relevant provisions in the Carrboro Town Code (§ 2-2 in the Town Charter):

“… [W]henever a seat on the board of aldermen (other than that of the mayor) becomes vacant at a time when one year or more of the term of office of that seat remains unexpired, such seat shall be filled by a special election. Such special election shall be called by the board of aldermen by the adoption of a resolution pursuant to G.S. 163-287 at the next regular or special meeting of the board held after the vacancy occurs. Such resolution shall not schedule an election during the time period beginning on the first Monday in July and ending on the last Monday in August in any calendar year. Vacancies that occur in the office of alderman at a time when less than one year of that alderman’s term of office remains unexpired shall be filled by appointment of the board of aldermen in accordance with G.S. 160A-63.”

Further, “if the board of aldermen adopts a resolution calling for a special election to fill one or more vacant seats as provided in subsection (f) of this section, and the resolution sets as the date of such election the same date as a regular municipal election, the (i) the resolution shall provide that the same filing period, filing fee, and absentee voting period that are applicable to the three seats on the board whose terms are expiring shall also apply to the special election for the vacant seat or seats; (ii) candidates who seek to fill either the expiring seats or the vacant seats shall file and appear on the ballot simply as candidates for election to the board of aldermen (i.e. they shall not be allowed to file or appear on the ballot as a candidate for either a particular vacant seat or an expiring seat); and (iii) the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes for office of alderman shall be elected to full four-year terms, and the person receiving the fourth highest number of votes for aldermen (and, if necessary, the fifth and the sixth highest number of votes) shall be elected for the remaining two years of the unexpired term of the vacant seat or seats.”

 Here is the North Carolina statute that discusses the special election:

§ 163287.  Special elections; procedure for calling.

Any municipality or any special district shall have authority to call special elections as permitted by law. Prior to calling a special election, the city council or the governing body of the special district shall adopt a resolution specifying the details of the election, and forthwith deliver the resolution to the appropriate board of elections. The resolution shall call on the board of elections to conduct the election described in the resolution and shall state the date on which the special election is to be conducted. The special election may be held at the same time as any other State, county or municipal primary, election or special election or referendum, but may not otherwise be held within the period of time beginning 30 days before and ending 30 days after the date of any other primary, election, special election or referendum held for that city or special district.

Legal notice of the special election shall be published no less than 45 days prior to the special election. The board of elections shall be responsible for publishing the legal notice. The notice shall state the date and time of the special election, the issue to be submitted to the voters, and the precincts in which the election will be held. This paragraph shall not apply to bond elections.