Lane says special election required to fill vacant council seat

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A former Republican congressional candidate is set to throw a monkey wrench into the city attorney’s recommendation that the City Council fill the vacancy Toby Gilley will create when he steps down to fill a judge’s seat.

Steve Lane, a Murfreesboro resident who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th Congressional District post, said today 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 he believes 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 Brandon last Thursday, 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.”

City Attorney Susan McGannon is advising 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.

Mayor Shane McFarland said he asked McGannon last week to prepare options for the council to consider.

“I think the council will discuss all of its options to decide,” he said. “I have not totally made up my mind on how the seat should be filled, but it seems to me that the application and interview process is a reasonable way to fill the position.”

McFarland said his goal is to ensure the method used to fill the seat is “open and transparent.”

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 today 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.

Based on state law, candidates should be able to turn in qualifying petitions by Sept. 25, he added.

And while the council has the authority to appoint an interim council member, that appointment lasts only until the next election, Lane said.

“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.

Lane said he has no interest in who would receive an interim appointment or fill the vacancy.


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Members Opinions:
August 13, 2014 at 12:50pm
Election Commission Chairman Ransom Jones said today the matter is beyond his “level of expertise” and that attorneys might have to determine what the commission should do." Nicole Lester was beyond his level of expetise and he fired her. I bet that (she) could have given a more intelligent and informed response than this.
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