The Wellington Village Council decided Tuesday to put out advertisements immediately for candidates to replace Councilman Howard Coates (shown above), who announced his resignation from the council this week in preparation to accept an appointment as a judge on the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that Coates submitted his resignation earlier that day, effective immediately, and pointed out that the council has 30 days to appoint his replacement.
“What that means is that by Feb. 11, you have to have made the appointment,” Schofield said. “You have two council meetings between now and then. The only thing that the charter says is that you must make the appointment.”
He said that previous councils have used a variety of different processes in the past.
“You can simply come to consensus, you can take applications, you can do a whole lot of things, but you are required to do it within 30 days,” Schofield said, adding that he had received a number of e-mails and correspondence from people who would be interested in serving.
Schofield asked the council to decide the process that will be used.
“It could be as simple as each council member putting forward a candidate and you scoring them, and taking the highest person, or you could take résumés and applications and do interviews,” he said. “There’s no set procedure. Pick the process that works for you.”
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said the timing is still tight.
“That would give you two weeks to ask for résumés and letters of interest,” Cohen said. “That gives you a short time frame.”
Village Clerk Awilda Rodriguez said the required time for advertising is one week prior to the scheduled meeting where the decision would be made.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he thought that the council members need to set a level of understanding for residents to know what they are looking for.
“Doing that tonight gives us a great aspect to set that tone, with the staff moving forward quickly with some form of advertising, asking for applicants with résumés,” he said. “I don’t want to just hear a name.”
Willhite suggested that they hear the applications on Jan. 27 and possibly make a motion that evening to select one of the candidates. If a consensus is not reached at that meeting, they could postpone their decision to the first meeting in February.
Willhite pointed out that whoever they appoint would serve one year until the March 2016 election, then the final two years of Coates’ remaining term would be up for election. Anyone appointed to the post would have to seek election at that time. He also pointed out that Coates was initially appointed to fill a vacancy and was unopposed in the next election cycle.
“He was a beneficial member of the community, and now he’s moving on,” Willhite said.
Willhite said he did not want to go through an interview process, which he felt would require an inordinate amount of time and scheduling.
“We’re charged with a number of responsibilities, and this is another one that the charter sets forth the information and the language that we have to do,” he said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she would prefer as much public input as they can get.
“The process as described there, whenever we get to the point that we want to nominate someone, we nominate them and then you don’t hear everybody,” Gerwig said, explaining that she would like to see a process where they advertise for résumés and the candidates would be offered the opportunity to come speak to the council at a public meeting. “If we have 20 people and they all speak for three minutes, that’s 60 minutes. That’s not a huge amount of time for us and the public to be able to evaluate the process.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said he would like to have a public forum, possibly outside a scheduled council meeting, where the candidates could speak and the council and the public would be able to hear them.
“Each applicant would be given five minutes, or 10 minutes, whatever we decide, to give a presentation to this council on why they should be sitting up here,” Margolis said.
He stressed that he did not want to wind up in a position where a four-member council gets hung on a 2-2 vote, and would prefer a process where the candidates are ranked based on a score, similar to the process where Coates was appointed.
Vice Mayor John Greene said he thought the integrity of the process was most important, but the council is charged by the charter with making the decision. “We are in a position where we have to have a person to hold that seat for the next year,” Greene said. “I don’t have a problem with creating a forum where people come in and we give them the opportunity to speak.”
He suggested candidates be given the opportunity to speak at an agenda review meeting, and possibly start accepting nominations the following night at the regular council meeting.
The council agreed to invite candidates to speak following their agenda review meeting on Monday, Jan. 26, beginning at 6 p.m., and to consider nominations at the regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Wellington is planning a special ceremony at the Jan. 27 meeting to honor Coates for his six years of service on the council.