In a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 17, the Wellington Village Council approved a resolution with three referendum questions to be put before voters, minus a question that would have allowed council vacancies to be filled by special election rather than by council appointment, as they are now.
The council had approved the question on the method of filling council vacancies in a 3-2 decision after some council members suggested that the language is confusing. The question, as worded, asked if council vacancies should be filled in the same manner as mayoral ones. Mayoral vacancies are currently filled by a special election.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said that she had prepared a rewritten charter amendment on the policy for filling council vacancies to make the language clearer, but had been informed by the Supervisor of Elections Office that it is too late to submit revised language, and the only alternative is to go with the original language or remove the question from the ballot.
Councilman Matt Willhite had made a motion at the Oct. 27 meeting to remove the amendment from the ballot, which failed 3-2 with Councilwoman Anne Gerwig, Vice Mayor John Greene and Councilman John McGovern dissenting.
Greene then made a motion to approve the amendment, which carried 3-2 with Mayor Bob Margolis and Willhite opposed. Cohen rewrote the council vacancy question in an attempt to clarify it, but it was too late to get the revised language on the ballot.
The special meeting Dec. 17 was called to adopt the ballot summaries by resolution.
Willhite made a motion to reconsider the second reading of the ordinance on filling vacancies and remove it, which was seconded by McGovern, who felt that Cohen’s revised language is much clearer, although too late to get it on the March ballot.
“No doubt the revised language Ms. Cohen brought to us is much clearer,” McGovern said. “The objective is to get rid of appointments. We should pull this and address it in August.”
During public comment, three residents said that they also found the language of the amendment to be confusing.
Anthony Forgione said he represented a coalition of residents who are concerned about the proposed referendum question.
“We believe that the ballot language on the entire issue is confusing,” Forgione said in a prepared statement. “We are asking the council to work together to figure out how to redraft this proposed charter amendment.”
He added that his coalition has spoken to attorneys who believe that the question can be challenged in court. “There’s no rush to put this on the ballot with two elections coming up this year,” Forgione said.
Margolis said he felt as though the issue had been taken out of the council’s hands with the decision that the supervisor of elections had made. “I commend this council for making the decision to have a charter review task force,” Margolis said. “I think that is the first time that the council has voted to have a charter review task force, versus just deciding amongst themselves which charter amendments should be sent to the residents, and I commend Councilman Willhite for doing that.”
Margolis agreed that there was a lot of confusion when the question on filling council vacancies came up.
“Our village attorney did state that it was her recommendation that we take it off, and that motion was not successful,” he said. “The motion was 3-2 to keep it on, but we can’t keep it on. We’ve been told by the supervisor that the clarification of language is just not there, so I think the decision certainly has been made for us.”
Margolis did say that he supported that goal of having residents vote on filling council vacancies.
“I think we’ll have another opportunity certainly to do that, but with everything that has been going on, the confusion, I talked to residents who have had confusion with regard to this ballot issue also,” he said. “This has given us an opportunity to clarify… what the intent of the charter amendment is.”
But Gerwig disagreed with Margolis that the council does not have a choice.
“I think we do have a choice,” she said. “The fact of the matter is we may be challenged if we make that choice, but we have in the past said that our intent is to let the voters decide on this, so I’m just going to stand my ground on that and say, well, it might not be perfect. I think it is defensible, especially when you go back and look at conversations that we’ve had, how we got to this point. We did agree that it shouldn’t be any different than filling the mayor. I don’t think that it really does go against the intent. We’ve had this conversation before, not letting the perfect become the enemy of what’s right and what’s good.”
McGovern offered an amendment to direct staff to start the process going to get the revised question on the August ballot.
“We’ve been told by the clerk that there is money for that,” he said. “I think that the second version is not perfect, but it is certainly far closer to what we want it to say.”
Willhite accepted McGovern’s amendment. When Margolis called the question, it carried 4-1, with Gerwig opposed.
The decision directly affects Gerwig’s seat, which she will vacate after the March election due to her decision to challenge Margolis. Should the amendment have passed, Gerwig’s seat would have gone to a special election. Now it will be up for appointment by the newly seated council.
Greene made a motion to support the new resolution with three questions, which carried 5-0. The remaining three questions are:
• Whether to change the composition of the elections canvassing board to make it an independent panel.
• Whether the charter should be amended to include a provision protecting the Equestrian Preserve Area. Currently the charter does not make reference to the Equestrian Preserve Area.
• Whether commercial transient occupancy uses other than bed-and-breakfasts, such as hotels, motels and rental apartments, should be prohibited in the Equestrian Preserve Area.