The Cary Town Council appears poised to leave open the seat soon to be vacated by councilwoman Gale Adcock, who was recently elected to the state House of Representatives.
The council is considering appointing someone to represent District D, located in central Cary, through an application process or leaving the seat open until voters elect someone to the position next fall.
Some on the council believe they have a duty to fill Adcock’s seat, while others, including Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, have said they think an appointment process would become too contentious and take up too much time and money.
Adcock plans to resign before January, leaving at least 10 months before the next election for her seat and a year before the four-year term expires.
Council members expected to decide the matter Tuesday during a work session, but postponed a vote so that Councilman Don Frantz can officially weigh in on the matter. Frantz recently had back surgery and was absent from the work session.
The council will discuss the issue again at a work session on Dec. 9, said Cary spokeswoman Susan Moran.
State law says the council is responsible for filling vacant seats, but it doesn’t lay out how it should be done.
Going through the replacement process appears unlikely, based on comments publicly expressed by council members.
The Cary Town Council has seven members, including a voting mayor. Adcock has said she plans to abstain from the decision process.
Weinbrecht and Councilman Jack Smith staked out anti-appointment positions at Tuesday’s meeting. Frantz has expressed similar views in an interview and privately with other council members.
If Frantz sticks with his position, Weinbrecht and Smith will have enough support to block a motion to start an appointment process, which they noted could take weeks and as much as $10,600 to advertise, according to town staff.
Jennifer Robinson and Lori Bush were the only council members on Tuesday who said they’re in favor of appointing someone.
“Even though Councilman (Ed) Yerha is from District D and that district has great representation … I do think that those citizens deserve a representative that has a focus,” Bush said.
Yerha, the most recent person to be appointed to the council, is the only council member who is undecided.
Yerha originally joined the council as an appointee in 2012 when the council appointed him to fill an at-large seat vacated by Julie Robison, who resigned to move out of state.
If Yerha voted to replace Adcock, the decision would be 3-3. A tie vote, no matter the motion, would keep the seat vacant by default. At that point, the council could move on or debate the issue further until a decision is made by a voting majority.
An anti-appointment vote would almost certainly decide the matter.
Yerha prides himself on following rules, laws and historical precedent.
But state law and the town’s charter are written so ambiguously that neither Cary staff or the town attorney are willing to offer a recommendation.
Previous council decisions don’t offer much guidance, either, Yerha said.
The council replaced Robison in 2012 because she had nearly two years left in her term. In 2011, the council decided against appointing someone when Erv Portman resigned because only four months remained until the next election for his seat.
Yerha said the decision would be easier if Adcock had any more or any less time in her term when she resigns.
“Let me be clear, I want you to stay for as long as possible,” Yerha told Adcock, who sat next to him. She smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
Yerha said he was considering appointing someone to the seat after Cary town lawyer Chris Simpson explained that experts in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Goverment interpreted state law to mean that local governments should fill vacant seats as soon as possible.
He said he initially leaned toward leaving the seat vacant for several reasons, many of which Weinbrecht and Smith already had mentioned.
Yerha said he worried that appointing someone to Adcock’s term would give that person an “unfair advantage of incumbency” if he or she chose to run for the seat. In the first election after his appointment, Yerha ran unopposed.
Unless the council appoints someone over the holiday season, the new council member likely wouldn’t be able to participate in the Town Council retreat early next year – an experience Yerha said would help the appointee acclimate more quickly.
Yerha recalled his own experience after being appointed. “It took me months to feel comfortable,” he said.
He also said he feared that an appointment process would become political and drag on. A divided council voted 4-2 to appoint Yerha back in 2012.
Yerha wondered if the council’s current split over how to replace Adcock is a sign of more division to come.
“If we’re arguing over that, then how much are we going to argue when it’s time to appoint?” he asked.