Three People Have Applied for the Vacant Durham City Council Seat | News

Three People Have Applied for the Vacant Durham City Council Seat

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The Durham City Council's Procedures Committee met Wednesday to discuss how they will go about appointing someone to fill a vacant at-large seat on the council and to tweak an applicant questionnaire.

Although at least seven people have publicly announced plans to apply for the seat, as of Wednesday afternoon the city clerk's office had not received any applications. Three came in today, according to the city clerk. Applications, which can be found on the city's website, are due December 19 by five p.m.

The three people who had applied by Thursday afternoon were Pastor Fredrick Davis, El Centro Hispano President Pilar Rocha-Goldberg and chemist Michael Levine. Their applications have not yet been vetted for eligibility.

Under city code, if the council doesn't appoint someone to the vacancy by February 2, a special election will be held. The at-large seat had been occupied by Steve Schewel, who was installed as mayor earlier this month. Schewel's council term doesn't expire until 2019.

Candidates must be at least twenty-one years old, live in city limits, be registered to vote in Durham County, and be current on their city and county taxes to be considered. Eligible candidates will then receive a questionnaire similar to the one sent out in 2012 when the council appointed Don Moffitt to finish out the term of now-Senator Mike Woodard.

The committee on Wednesday made few changes to the old questionnaire. The Procedures Committee consists of Schewel and council members Jillian Johnson, Vernetta Alston, and Charlie Reece (who chairs the committee), but council members Mark-Anthony Middleton and DeDreana Freeman also participated in a discussion on how to phrase the questions and how much to ask of applicants.

"We're making a decision for a quarter of a million people," Middleton said. "What would they have been exposed to had they gone through the regular election process?"

Most notably, the committee nixed a question that asks applicants what books, magazines, and newspapers they read.

"It feels judgmental," said Alston. (Reece said he may be floating this question at interviews, though.)

They added a question about city infrastructure and services. Other questions will ask applicants about their availability to meet the council's busy schedule, what they think the city's priorities should be, and their ideas on issues ranging from housing to economic development.

Questionnaires will be due back to the council January 2 and, after a January 4 work session, the council will narrow the field of applicants to those they want to interview.

Interviews will be held during what is shaping up to be a six-hour-long special meeting on January 11 at City Hall. Audio, but not video, will be live-streamed. Each council member will have equal time to question each applicant.

Council members on Wednesday also weighed how exactly they vote. Looking to avoid gridlock, they're considering using a method called ranked-choice voting.

"It makes the decision more reflective of the actual will of the body," said Johnson, who suggested the method. But it's not something Durham voters are used to and, in the interest of transparency (and making sure council members know what they're doing), will require a public education campaign.

The council is expected to swear in its newest member immediately before its January 16 meeting.

There is a strong push to make the council more representative of Durham's population by appointing a Latino council member. Parent advocate and MomsRising organizer Sheila Arias, attorney Yesenia Polanco-Galdamez, and educational consultant Javiera Caballero told the INDY they will apply for the job. According to the Herald-Sun, Pastor Ricardo Correo is also interested, and supporters of Rocha-Goldberg, have been filling the council's inboxes with emails asking she be appointed.

Former mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon also announced plans to apply for the job, as well as Carl Rist, who heads up the People's Alliance’s economic inequality team.


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