by Joe Schwartz
Chapel Hill leaders will wait until after the next Town Council is sworn in to appoint a person to fill Bill Strom's vacant seat. After being prodded by a petition, six members of the current council, four of whom are up for election, stated their support for waiting until after Dec. 7, when the new group takes office. Councilwoman Sally Greene was the only one not to weigh in, though she has stated her support on the local blog, Orangepolitics.org.
Mayor Kevin Foy was the only one adamant in targeting Nov. 9 at the date to make an appointment, though realizing he was in the minority, he encouraged the group to cancel the applicant's presentations for that date.
Under town ordinance, the vacancy must be considered at every meeting until an appointment is made, but there is not a deadline. The group of six, Matt Czajkowski, Laurin Easthom, Ed Harrison, Mark Kleinschmidt, Jim Merritt (who voiced his support later in the meeting, during the consent agenda section) and Jim Ward, intends to delay the appointment each time until December.
Resident Tom Holt presented a petition with signatures from 287 folks asking the council to delay the appointment until the new council is seated.
"The timing and other circumstances surrounding the resignation together with the lack of a clear explanation of the reasons behind each have lead, rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, to feelings of anger and suspicious among many citizens," he said, noting that Strom's resignation came with the election season already underway, preventing voters from choosing a successor to serve out the two years left on the term.
"I personally am not so cynical to believe that such gaming of the system has or could occur, but whether you get your news from the newspaper, the water cooler or the blogosphere, it is abundantly clear that this is in fact what many people feel."
Foy recommended the council receive and refer the petition to staff, as is standard practice for citizen petitions.
"What is it that we are being asked to do? I don't understand it," he said. "I count at least 10 anonymous. I count 25 or 30 who don't even say where they live. ... I'm not sure what it is we're being asked to do and who is asking us to do it, and I'm not going to take action on such a petition tonight."
Others clearly took issue with Foy's quick dismissal. Kleinschmidt moved that the petition be addressed that night. Others agreed, and stated their reasons for agreeing with the intent of those who signed.
Harrison, up for election, said it makes sense for a new group to select their colleague, something he'd said at the last council meeting two weeks ago.
"I'll do it again and I'll speak really slowly. I believe the next council the new council should get to make the appointment. And I said it last time, if I'm not there then I'll miss the fun."
Easthom, who stressed that she was on record months ago, said that Strom was elected two years ago, and times are changing. Czajkowski agreed and recommended that the Nov. 9 hearing at which the 12 applicants for the seat would have presented. Ward wanted to keep that meeting, but later changed his mind when Foy said the applicants shouldn't have to make their cases in front of a group that wouldn't make the decision. Kleinschmidt also restated his support for letting the new group make the call.
A similar petition, one asking the council to bind itself to selecting the fifth-place finisher in the Nov. 3 election earn Strom's seat failed to gain support last month. This recent development, along with the cancellation of the Nov. 9 presentations, does give the community some clarity in what has been a controversial and confusing process for many.