A vacant seat on the Summit Town Council will have to be filled by appointment, however unpalatable that requirement may be for town officials tasked with carrying out that obligation, the board’s attorney said at a special meeting on Tuesday.
Two candidates — Julius Nash and Gary Keith Thompson — attempted but failed to qualify to run in a special election that had been scheduled for Tuesday. County elections officials determined they had not met the requirement to obtain the signatures of at least 50 registered voters each.
Since no one qualified for the special election, state law says the town council must appoint someone to fill the remainder of former Councilman Daryl Porter Jr.’s term, which ends June 30. Porter resigned in February after being elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Council members have bristled at the requirement, saying the board should reflect the will of the voters.
“That appointment is going to be on our shoulders, not the mayor, not the attorney, it’s on us. And I don’t think that’s fair,” Councilman Joe Lewis said.
Town officials had asked board attorney Wayne Dowdy to seek a declaratory judgment to set up another special election, but Dowdy noted court isn’t in session amid the outbreak of coronavirus.
He said state law requires a special election if a council member resigns with more than six months left on the term.
Theoretically, the council could appoint someone with no interest in serving for the duration of the term, and a new special election could be set up if the appointee resigned soon after taking office.
Dowdy recommended the council appoint someone by April. The board will hold a work session on April 7 and a board meeting, where votes are cast and official action is taken, on April 14.
Dowdy acknowledged the difficulty in candidates obtaining the required amount of signatures, considering Summit’s population is around 1,750 and only a fraction of those residents are registered voters.
“Getting 50 in a town of 1,750 people is much, much harder …. but be that as it may, that law is in place for an office in a town with a population of 1,000 or more,” he said.
Thompson said he was told he had to get signatures from property owners, not residents, which town officials said wasn’t true.
“Just because you live in a house with someone else, it doesn’t mean they can’t sign your petition,” Councilwoman Pauline Monley said.
Nash said after the meeting that elections officials questioned the validity of some of his signatures because they didn’t match the person’s signature on decades-old voter registration cards. He said senior citizens with arthritis printed their names instead of using their former signatures.
Monley said choosing an appointee will be a difficult decision.
“It’s pressure for us to really make a decision and determine who we should appoint to replace councilman Porter,” she said. “There were only two of y’all who came up here and picked up a petition, so that lets me know y’all were interested in the job.”
Robinson reminded council members that making difficult decisions is part of the job.
“I’m going to tell you like I told the troops when we were mobilized to go to Iraq. We weren’t complaining when we were drawing that check. Now we’ve got to pay the piper,” he said. “I bear the burden also. I’m not going to let you bear it alone. The only thing you can say is, ‘Look, we went by the law.’ ”