Wellington’s referendum question asking to change the way the council fills vacancies from an appointment process to a public vote carried overwhelmingly on Tuesday.
The question, which changes the village’s charter, carried 83.01 percent (4,838 votes) to 16.99 percent (990 votes).
After being vetted by the village’s Charter Review Task Force, the question had been dropped from accompanying three other questions on the March municipal ballot after several residents claimed the initial wording was confusing. It was placed on the August ballot with revised wording.
Mayor Anne Gerwig, who was at the center of an appointment/election controversy earlier this year when she had to resign as a councilwoman to run for mayor, said the change will offer more equity in the way council vacancies are filled.
“The question at the time for me was, ‘Can we put my seat on the ballot?’ and the answer was ‘no,’” she said. “But after this amendment went through, now we can.”
Gerwig believes that the estimated $30,000 to run a special election if necessary is worth it, although she believes that most council vacancies will be able to be filled during regularly scheduled elections.
“If there is an upcoming election, I imagine any responsible council would stack it onto an upcoming ballot to save the expense of a stand-alone election,” she said. “We had a couple of friends who voted against it because of the money. They told me they just didn’t want to spend the money on it. I understand the reasoning on their part, but it’s not going to be frequently occurring.”
Gerwig noted that quite a few people made their way onto the council through appointment, including several people who turned out to be pretty good public officials.
“But there is something to be said for going to an election, and the last couple of times we went to appointment, I think we have been pretty open about the way we have done them,” she said. “None of them have been the same over the years.”
The original charter provided for an appointment to fill vacancies, but did not specify a process.
“This, to me, will equalize that,” Gerwig said. “It will always be the same method.”
Gerwig said the council vacancy question was the one thing that came from the Charter Review Task Force that made it through the council. “From their own review, it wasn’t driven by any particular council member,” she said. “I wish we could have gotten it on with the others.”
She added that the amendment will fix the issue she had when she resigned to run for mayor.
“My resignation would have to be filled by an election, and it won’t call for a special election in a situation like I had,” Gerwig said, explaining that after tweaking the resolution that controls the amendment, her vacancy would be able to appear on the same ballot when she ran for mayor.
“In my case, my resignation wasn’t valid until after the date of the election,” she said. “We knew my resignation was irrevocable, so in my mind, that seat should have been on the ballot.”
She also clarified that a partial term does not count toward term limits.
“If you were serving a partial term, you would still be able to serve an additional two terms,” she said.
Vice Mayor John McGovern, who was appointed to the council to finish former Councilman Howard Coates’ term and subsequently elected unopposed, said he was happy that the referendum passed.
“I think that its passage was not unexpected,” he said. “We all, whether it’s this council or the prior council, or the charter review committee, we all expressed a desire that these decisions be made by the voters. I think we all worked to create a very clear charter revision question for the ballot and a very workable process to be put in the charter that will allow the voters to make these choices going forward.”
McGovern said the previous process had always called for the appointment to be as brief as possible, although newly appointed Councilwoman Tanya Siskind will serve almost two years in Gerwig’s former seat until the next village election in March 2018.
“There will not be any appointments under the new process,” McGovern said.
The newly passed referendum calls for an election if the remaining term is more than 180 days. If the remaining term is less than 180 days, the seat will remain vacant until the next election.