Remaining aldermen must fill vacancy after resignation

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Garry Crail resigned from the Columbia Board of Aldermen on July 31, and the four remaining members have a duty to fill the vacancy.
But neither the town charter nor the state’s General Statutes governing cities and towns sets a time limit for seating Crail’s successor.
By contrast, if the county commissioners don’t fill a vacancy on that board within 60 days the clerk of Superior Court is required to appoint someone.
Three new aldermen will be elected in Columbia Nov. 7 because none of the three incumbents — James Cahoon, Crail and Ray Marner — filed for re-election. Cahoon is running for mayor against Mike Crowder, the others decided to retire, and then Crail resigned before her term expires.
The four remaining aldermen — Lloyd Armstrong, Cahoon, Marner and Sandra Owens — appear to have three options in filling Crail’s seat for the period between now and Dec. 4, when newly elected officers take the oath.
The first option, as always, is to do nothing; that is, let the vacancy remain unfilled until the new aldermen take office.
Option two is to appoint one of the three candidates whose name will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot: Hal Fleming, Seth Gibbs or Bryan Owens.
But a write-in campaign could see someone else defeating one of the three announced candidates.
Sandra Owens came within three votes of unseating an alderman after a one-week write-in campaign in 2005. A write-in candidate seems unlikely, however, given the general lack of interest shown during the filing period that resulted in only three candidates filing for three board seats. And it was the same two years ago — no contests for alderman.
A third option is to appoint a caretaker, a Columbia voter who would occupy the office until the new aldermen are sworn in Dec. 4.
There is precedent for a caretaker appointment. The Tyrrell commissioners tapped Tessi Hollis before the 1996 election to fill a vacancy for three months until new commissioners took office because there was a partisan contest for the seat.
The Columbia Board of Aldermen meets next at 7 p.m. Sept. 5, in the Municipal Building at 103 Main St. A public comment period is near the top of the agenda.