The State Coordinator of Elections, Mark Goins, has advised Murfreesboro City Attorney Susan McGannon that a state law dealing with vacancies in county offices should be used to place a City Council position on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot.
According to. Goins, TCA 5-1-104, should be used to determine the qualifying date for a municipal election. This would mean that noon on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014 would be the deadline for qualifying petitions to be filed with the Rutherford County Election Commission for the Nov. 4, 2014, general election. A special election is not required.
Earlier this week, the City Attorney had written a letter to the City Council on filling the vacancy of Council member Toby Gilley following Gilley’s election Aug. 7, as General Sessions judge.
Councilman Gilley had advised the City Attorney that he doesn’t intend to resign prior to Sept. 1. McGannon had advised the Council that while an election for Gilley’s unexpired portion of his Council term could potentially be held as part of the November 2014 general election, it appeared, based on state law, that the vacancy would need to be created in sufficient time for the qualifying petition to be filed on or before Aug. 21, 2014. The Election Coordinator’s view of TCA 5-1-104, however, would provide sufficient time for the qualifying petitions to be filed for the November 4, 2014 ballot.
Steve Lane, a Murfreesboro resident who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th Congressional District post, said recently that state law supersedes the city charter on filling vacant council seats and requires the county Election Commission to set a special election, in this case on Nov. 4, when the next regular election is scheduled.
Lane said the council should appoint an interim council member to serve until the seat is filled Nov. 4 in a special election.
“It would be immoral not to allow the voters to choose who fills this vacancy,” Lane said today, adding he plans to notify the Rutherford County Election Commission and Tennessee Division of Elections about the matter.
Gilley, a Republican who defeated incumbent Democrat Larry in the Aug. 7 election, advised the city attorney he will resign Sept. 1, as required by state law, to fill the post of General Sessions, Part III, according to a city statement.
The city’s charter on filling vacancies states that “any vacancy in the city council other than in the office of mayor, caused by death, resignation, ouster, or removal of a member, or due to other cause, occurring 270 days or more before the next regular municipal election must be filled by a majority vote of the remaining members of the City Council.”
McGannon advised council members to make an interim appointment, though the city charter doesn’t specify the process. In the case of previous vacancies, the council has taken nominations, solicited applications and even left the seat vacant. Those appointed have included prior council members and prior candidates though none is a requisite, according to city information.
Because of the timing of Gilley’s election and pending resignation, McGannon advised council members that the person selected to fill his seat will serve until the next city election in 2016. The post would be up for election at that point, according to a city statement.
Lane, however, contended that state law says the election commission is responsible for calling a special election. Once it has the facts about the vacancy, it is to schedule a vote 75 to 80 days afterward. If that falls within 30 days of a primary or election, the election commission can move the date to coincide with that election. The state and federal election is set for Nov. 4.
The Rutherford County Election Commission, which is scheduled to meet Monday at 4:30 p.m., would be in violation of state law if it doesn’t schedule a special election, he said.
Election Commission Chairman Ransom Jones said the matter is beyond his “level of expertise” and that attorneys might have to determine what the commission should do.
“When someone sends word down for us to hold an election, that’s exactly what we will do,” Jones said.
Added Lane: “It’s important that people understand there is a protocol to be followed, and if there is a sliver of a chance that voters can fill this vacancy, they should be given that opportunity,” he said.