Council debates policy for filling vacancy

Buckhannon City Council members recently debated the process for filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Scott Preston.

Preston resigned from office because of his job requiring him to be away for extended periods of time. The council is responsible for selecting a candidate to fill the vacancy, and not everyone is in agreement of how that should be done. Preston’s term has 14 months remaining.

“I realize that we have a lot of people interested in the position, but my position is not going to change,” Councilman Ron Pugh said. “If a candidate runs for office and comes in second, I believe that if there’s a vacancy in that office, then the candidate that managed the time, effort and money to run for that office … should be the one to take the vacant position. My vote is going to be for Tom O’Neill.”

O’Neill received the second highest number of votes in the election for office after Preston.

Five individuals have expressed interest in the vacancy so far: O’Neill, Michael Cowger, Michael Livesay, Keith “Skeeter” Queen and Christine Bennett.

The City Council discussed the deadline for letters of interest for the vacancy. Mayor Kenneth Davidson announced letters of interest will be accepted until 4 p.m. Thursday.

Pugh did not change his mind about O’Neill and continued to fight against the process of possibly appointing any other interested person.

“I would surely feel really disappointed had I been in (O’Neill’s) shoes,” he said, “and we’d considered somebody else who didn’t bother to run and just decided to be a councilman. … I think it’s wrong to do it that way. I think that the only fair way would be to appoint the person that (finished) in the second place of the last election.”

Pugh offered a motion to appoint O’Neill to the vacancy. The motion was dissolved when City Attorney David McCauley pointed out the motion could not be made because it wasn’t on the agenda.

McCauley said the only language in the city charter relating to the appointment of a new member is the city “shall” appoint one. The charter does not outline how the city must do so.

“The charter is very clear that the council establishes the approach to so many things,” McCauley said, adding that having an ordinance or resolution outlining the process for determining how to appoint a councilman during a vacancy leaves the City Council vulnerable. A future City Council could repeal the established practice if it is in the form of a resolution or ordinance.

“You could change a resolution or an ordinance,” McCauley said. “What’s in the charter does not handcuff or manacle the city.

“There have been some situations where the council is very happy to welcome that next vote-getter. If that would have been what would have been required by the charter – or by state stature, in a couple of other instances – I think there would have been some mass resignations from the City Council. That’s just the way it works.”

Pugh asked what would have happened in that case if the vote-getter who was disliked by City Council had been elected.

“Would they have had mass resignations because of it? Let’s be fair about the whole thing,” Pugh said.

McCauley said there could be an instance where few people run for office, and the second vote-getter has only 12 votes.

“Do you want to saddle yourself with having to do that in those instances?” McCauley said, adding that with the flexibility currently available, City Council still could appoint the runner-up this time if it wanted.

In a motion that also was not on the agenda, City Council approved cancellation of the May 16 regular meeting that overlaps with West Virginia Strawberry Festival activities.

Pugh opposed the motion. McCauley did not intercede. The motion was brought forth during a comment and announcement period for City Council.