The newly seated Wellington Village Council decided on a procedure Tuesday to fill its vacant seat. The vacancy was created by Mayor Anne Gerwig’s resignation from her previous council seat.
Village Attorney Laurie Cohen noted that the charter requires that the council appoint a new member to fill a vacant seat within 30 days.
“The deadline for doing that is going to be April 21, and you have only one meeting between now and then, your meeting on April 12,” Cohen said. “There’s nothing in the charter that dictates how you go about doing that.”
Cohen provided information to the council on how such vacancies have been handled in the past.
Councilman Michael Napoleone provided a proposal on how to handle the process, which had been discussed at the agenda review meeting the day before.
“This is his vision of how he would like to see it handled,” Cohen said. “I think you agreed on some points and disagreed on others, so your charge here is to try to formalize the process that you intend to use so that we can advertise for the position and proceed to take the steps necessary to fill the seat in a timely manner.”
Gerwig pointed out that at the agenda review meeting, she had asked Cohen what would happen if the seat was not filled in 30 days, and Cohen said it was unknown.
Cohen related that such a situation happened fairly recently in Boynton Beach. That council had a vacancy and was unable to fill the seat until one of the council members resigned, giving the remaining members an uneven vote.
“Every time they tried to fill it, there was a split vote,” Cohen said. “I spoke with their attorney today, and he made numerous attempts to try to get the governor to appoint someone, and the governor’s office was uninterested in participating.”
She said it was questionable whether a judge would issue a writ of mandamus, because there were aspects of the question that were discretionary.
In a similar situation in the Town of Dania Beach, a seat remained open until the next election.
“Of course, our election is two years away,” Cohen said. “I have every confidence in a 3-1 or 4-0 vote to fill it, but if that doesn’t occur, we will either have to have a special election, potentially, or find some way to resolve that deadlock.”
“We’re not there yet,” Gerwig said. “I was just curious as to what would happen.”
Councilman John McGovern was confident that the council would get the process done in the next 30 days.
“There is no provision in the charter for a special election,” he said. “I think that we will make this appointment in 30 days.”
He added that they had discussed at the agenda review meeting putting forward a charter amendment for the November ballot on filling council vacancies.
Napoleone pointed out that he had been on last year’s Charter Review Committee where they had proposed a referendum question for the March election that did not make it to the ballot.
“So here’s where we are, but I do think it’s important that this process be as open and transparent as possible, and the public have as much chance for input and education on who the potential applicants and council people are, so they can be as involved in the process as they can be for an appointment, as opposed to an election,” Napoleone said.
Council members agreed that applications must be submitted by April 4 in order to meet the timeline.
Napoleone said his proposal was to have the applicants submit a letter of interest with a résumé or curriculum vitae, but also answer a questionnaire.
“I think those questions would inform the council, as well as the public, as to the potential councilperson’s viewpoints on various issues that affect our community,” he said.
Other council members provided their own potential questions and, after discussion, agreed on eight questions for applicants to answer.
Napoleone suggested that they have a special meeting on Monday, April 11 after their agenda review meeting where all the applicants come in and give short presentations.
“That would be the public presentation for the candidates,” he said. “There would be no action taken at that meeting other than them making their presentations.”
Councilman Michael Drahos said he would prefer council members not meet with applicants before they make their presentations, or throughout the entire process, but McGovern said he would rather have the option to meet with them individually.
“They were an important part last time, and I think they are an important part of the process,” McGovern said of potential meetings with candidates. “I will take any meeting that is requested of me.”
He pointed out that he was the most recent council member who had been through the process.
“I had extensive discussions with every member of the council last time,” McGovern said. “I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Drahos told McGovern that he was not judging him, but just had a policy difference with him on that question and did not plan to have any private meetings with applicants.
Napoleone said he did not have a problem with council members who want to have private meetings with applicants.
“I don’t want to meet with anybody, but I don’t think we should foreclose that opportunity for those who want to have a chance to sit down and get more information about that person, why they’re applying and who they are, what they’ve done, and get behind the résumé, as it were,” he said.
Napoleone said he would like to winnow the total applications down to five or 10, and have 10-minute interviews with them as a council, similar to the process used for judge applicants to send a short list to the governor for appointment.
“I’d like to see us have the information, the questionnaire, the résumé, the public presentation, and then from that we decide by whatever system we agree upon,” he said.
Gerwig said she would like each council member to narrow their selection to three applicants.
“I agree with what you’re saying, that if we have a smaller group, they can present to the public,” she said. “That would allow the public to ask spontaneous questions.”
Gerwig suggested that they make their presentations at the April 12 council meeting, and that they hold a public forum on April 14.
Napoleone suggested that afterward, council members make nominations until they find one that they approve, and council members all agreed to the format.