After running out of time to officially declare the council seat left by Gary Bell as vacant at last week’s city council meeting, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin announced a special meeting to be held this Thursday at City Hall to discuss the issue. The time for the meeting has not been specified yet.
“This process is very important and I look forward to getting it started by way of establishing some dates for the process to begin to move forward,” McLaughlin says. “This will happen on Thursday.”
Bell fell ill with a bacterial infection shortly after the November election. He is in a medically–induced coma and has undergone two neurosurgeries.
Deciding on the appropriate method to find a candidate to fill the empty seat is the root of intense arguments among city council members and residents. According to city by-laws, the council must choose a candidate to fill the seat within 60 days of announcing the vacancy. If not, Richmond must hold a special election. But the last council meeting stretched on for so long that McLaughlin was not able to advance an agenda item that would have declared the seat vacant and begun the nomination process for appointed candidates.
Members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, including McLaughin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, want to see Eduardo Martinez—also a member of the RPA—fill the seat, since hewas the runner-up during the last election cycle, receiving about 500 fewer votes than Bell.
However, Councilmembers Nat Bates and Corky Booze—who in the past have both been at odds with the RPA over Chevron, the casino, the soda tax, and most other issues, want the city to hold a special election to fill the seat. “Do you really want a person who physically stands in front of a business and protests in front of Wells Fargo? He is going to protest in front of Chevron.” Booze says. “How can this person sit at a table and not be biased? He is like an Occupy person.”
Adding to the already heated debate, Booze is upset because he says the mayor chose a date to hold the meeting when both he and Bates will be attending a conference to celebrate Bates’reelection.
“You can’t very well have people send out RSVPs and tell them, ‘By the way, the mayor had to have an emergency meeting,’” Booze says. “You just can’t do it.”