Councilmember-elect Gary Bell will not take office next week due to complications from a bacterial sinus infection, which was previously misreported in news accounts as a meningitis infection, according to a press release sent out Thursday night by Bell’s family.
Next Tuesday, January 8, is the swearing in ceremony for the new councilmembers. Councilmember Nat Bates and Councilmember Tom Butt were re-elected in November—Bell won the third seat on the council with about 15 percent of the vote.
This was the fifth time that Bell ran for office in Richmond. He was first elected to the city council in 2000, and served until 2005, when he lost his reelection bid. In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor and in 2010 he ended his campaign early due to his wife’s health. Bell’s political life began early in Wichita, Kansas when at 25 years old he became the youngest councilmember in that city’s history.
Days after winning a seat on the Richmond council for the third time last November, Bell was hospitalized due to complications from the bacterial sinus infection and underwent two neurosurgeries in November.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Germaine Bell, Gary’s son, said that his father is in a medically induced coma to help him heal more quickly, but he did not wish to elaborate on his condition. “We’re hoping for his recovery soon,” Germaine Bell said. “We’re asking for everyone to pray for him right now, and for a speedy recovery.”
In the press release, Gary Bell’s wife, Shelley Ross-Bell, said that the family is optimistic he will make a full recovery and will eventually be able to address his supporters personally. “On behalf of our entire family, we offer our regrets that my husband is now unable to serve as many had hoped.” Ross-Bell wrote in the press release.
“Gary long ago dedicated himself to public and community service to improve the lives of others, his recovery will best occur privately in the weeks ahead,” Ross-Bell continued.
According to Richmond’s city charter a vacancy on the council can be filled by majority approval of the remaining members within 60 days of the vacancy, or a special election will be held to elect a councilmember for the remaining term.
News of Bell’s ill health was met with sadness by councilmembers. “I think it is a tragedy that such a horrible thing happened to such a wonderful person,” said Vice Mayor Jim Rogers, who had sat next to Bell during part of his previous term on the council. “Gary is a standup guy.”
“It is obviously sad anytime this happens to anyone, but Gary has been a star in sports, a star in business, a star in politics and a star as a family man,” Rogers said. “This is obviously a shame.”
“Very unfortunate thing and I really feel bad for his family,” Councilmember Tom Butt said. “Like everybody else, I hope he will make a full recovery.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said her support is with Bell’s family. “This must be very hard on his family,” McLaughlin said, “and we just want to wish his family the best in terms of a full recovery.”
McLaughlin said that she had just recently learned of the family’s decision and she is not certain what it will mean for the council. “We haven’t really begun to go through that process yet, but we’ll update everybody as we go along,” she said.
Councilmember Corky Booze said he was surprised and very sad to hear that Bell’s condition would prohibit him from taking office. “Gary would have been an extremely good councilperson,” Booze said. “I think if Gary cannot take his seat then it needs to go back to voters—give them the opportunity to decide on a replacement.”
Stephen Hobbs contributed to the reporting of this story.