Cary News

Race is on for Cary council seat

The town of Cary’s political star search is on. The Cary Town Council members will have a pool of at least 17 candidates from which to choose their newest colleague – and residents still have two more weeks to apply for the open position on the town’s governing board.

The governing position will open at the end of this month, when long-time councilwoman Julie Robison moves out of state and resigns. Because she’s leaving mid-term, the town council has decided to appoint a substitute to serve her final 16 months.

What does the winner get? Health and dental insurance, a $10,859.34 salary, up to $9,626 yearly for town-related travel, up to $205 monthly for mobile phone and Internet bills – and, yes, hours of meetings, volumes of complaints and significant sway over the course of one of the state’s largest municipalities.

The applicants so far include a recent mayoral candidate, a medical doctor, veterans of the corporate world, an environmental activist, a high school teacher, and town government gurus. If recent history’s any indicator, they’ll face even more competition by the time filing closes at noon June 29.

Six years ago, the last time a seat came open mid-term, 37 candidates jostled for the position, resulting in a seven-month debate before the seat was warmed again. The town’s on track to match that number of competitors, and it’s no surprise. The application process is much simpler and cheaper than a full-blown electoral campaign, which can cost $15,000 or more.

Applicants have only to meet a few standards to qualify. They must be registered voters, at least 21 years old, who live in Cary. Disqualified are convicted sex offenders, felony offenders, people convicted of a misdemeanor in the last five years, and people convicted of misdemeanors involving a minor.

The candidates, as a whole, far surpass that bar. They’re generally experienced in town affairs or in the business world.

To name a few examples, Greg Ahlman just finished 38 years at IBM, while David Bramlett is fresh out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There’s Michelle Muir, who returns to the themes of her recent mayoral campaign, and Melinda Baran, who once was mayor of Hot Springs, Ark.

Carmen Marzella has developed three restaurants in the area. Doug Beary is an executive at a Swedish tech company, and Karl Thor’s a leader of DavisAndHighHouse.org.

The list goes on, and it’s sure to expand by the time the council begins interviewing candidates. Town staff and leaders hope to finish the process within a month, instead of the half-year it took to choose former councilman Erv Portman, the board’s last appointed official.

Some council members say that last process was slowed by partisan divides, which they hope to avoid this time. The council in 2006 deadlocked for several months as they tried to choose between a registered Republican and a registered Democrat. Three registered Republicans supported the Republican, Richard Domann, while two Democrats and an unaffiliated councilwoman voted for the Democrat, Erv Portman. The council eventually settled on Portman.

Council members say they’re aiming for a non-partisan process, but if it does come to party lines, the registered Democrats hold a 4-2 advantage.

Politics aside, applicants ought to know what they’re getting into, council members advise.

“I know some people say it’s a huge commitment on your time, a huge commitment on your family. But I think it’s something that, if you like civic matters, you’ll really enjoy,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, who was herself appointed to her first term.

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