The Cary Town Council is divided on whether to fill the council seat that will soon be vacated by Gale Adcock, who was elected Nov. 4 to the state House of Representatives.
Adcock, a Democrat who has served on the council since 2007, beat N.C. Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican, in the race to represent western Wake County in House District 41. The House term starts Jan. 1.
Adcock’s four-year term on the council representing District D ends in December 2015. The seat for District D, located in central Cary, is up for election in October. Candidates can file to run as early as July.
State law says the council is responsible for filling vacant council seats, but it doesn’t say how it should be filled or the deadline for doing so.
“Most people feel like it should be done, but there’s no real consequence if they don’t,” said Frayda Bluestein, a distinguished professor of public law and government at UNC’s School of Government.
The council is scheduled to decide whether to replace Adcock Tuesday during a work session at Town Hall.
The political balance of the nonpartisan Cary Town Council could be at stake. With Adcock on board, the council has three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated member.
While some council members say they have a duty to appoint a representative for Adcock’s district, others fear an appointment process would be too contentious and time-consuming.
“I think (an appointment process) would become political very quickly, and that’s something we really don’t need on council,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Monday.
Weinbrecht, who has a vote, said he’s undecided about what the council should do.
But some of his colleagues have opinions on how to proceed.
“We have a great opportunity to tap the intellectual capital that’s so prevalent in Cary,” said Councilwoman Lori Bush, who wants to appoint someone to the seat.
Looking to the past
Historically, the Cary Town Council has handled vacancies differently, depending on how much time is left in the vacated council member’s term.
Former councilwoman Julie Robison had about two years left in her term when she resigned in 2012 to move for her husband’s job. The town decided to take applications for the at-large seat. They received 59 applications, and 31 days after Robison resigned, the council voted 4-2 to appoint Councilman Ed Yerha to her seat.
In 2011, former Councilman Erv Portman resigned to accept an appointment to the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Portman’s resignation came four months ahead of the next election for his seat, so the council left it open.
Though the council is nonpartisan, appointment votes have fallen along party lines in the past, which Weinbrecht said he wants to avoid this time.
In 2007, a partisan deadlock froze the appointment process for seven months before the council chose Portman to replace councilman Michael Joyce, who had resigned.
Some council members think filling the spot should be left to residents, rather than an appointment process.
“Barring some strong argument that I haven’t heard yet, I think we’re better off letting the voters decide,” Councilman Jack Smith said.
Councilman Don Frantz agreed, saying the council set a precedent in 2011 when it decided to leave Portman’s seat open with less than a year until the election.
“By the time you go through a process of taking applications and conducting interviews, we’ll probably be through spring,” Frantz said. “I’d rather just let the voters decide.”
In 2012, Frantz was one of two Republican council members who voted against appointing Yerha. Yerha, who is registered independent, had donated to the campaigns of at least three current council members, including Frantz’s.
Then, Frantz and Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson feared the appointment would give the impression of cronyism.
Despite the council’s previous squabbles, Robinson said Tuesday that the council should do what’s right for the district by appointing someone who’s “service-minded” – regardless of that person’s political affiliation.
She wants to appoint someone from District D who’s familiar with land use rules, the governing process and local issues. She said it doesn’t matter whether the replacement would try to keep the seat in next fall’s election.
“Cary has an abundance of qualified, engaged citizens,” Robinson said. “We have had a very collaborative council that has been able to be decisive when needed.”
Adcock said Tuesday she doesn’t have an opinion on the matter.
“I trust them to make the right decision,” she said.