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If Bates or Butt wins, who will fill the empty council seat?

on October 26, 2014

When the votes are tallied and the likely next mayor is one of two longtime council members, a potentially power swinging decision will hang in the balance: Who will be appointed to fill that vacated council seat?

Mayoral hopefuls and sitting council members Tom Butt and Nat Bates are the frontrunners in the race for mayor, with Uche Uwahemu an upstart third candidate.

With four other council seats set to be decided by voters Nov. 4, the vacated seat that could prove the most important could be decided not by the voters, but by the new council, a fact that doesn’t sit well with some residents.

“The process is not fair to the voters, the person who is the runner-up should get the seat when it is vacated,” said Charles Smith, a longtime Richmond resident. “[And] not have the city council determine who they want to put in there, which could demonstrate total disregard for what the voters want or wanted.”

According to section 3 article 10 of the Richmond City Charter, “the vacancy shall be filled by a majority of the remaining Councilmembers.” However, if the new council does not appoint a member within 60 days of the vacancy, then a special election will be held to determine who will carry out the remainder of the term.

This situation is not new for Richmond.

In the November 2012 elections, Gary Bell was elected to the council. After the election, Bell fell ill and later died, leaving the new council with an empty seat and the need to appoint a new councilmember.

Eduardo Martinez, a Richmond Progressive Alliance candidate, was the next highest vote-getter in a crowded field, but the council passed him over.

After a month of reviewing the potential candidates, the council voted in Jael Myrick on Feb. 4, despite Myrick getting just a fraction of the popular vote that Martinez had garnered.

Myrick was appointed with a 4-to-1 vote. Councilmember Corky Booze, Myrick’s opponent for a two-year council seat this year, voted no. Bates abstained.

Myrick said it’s likely that discussions of how to fill a vacant seat will start soon after the election if Butt or Bates wins.

“The last time when I was appointed to the council, there was a very quick turn around with the new council coming,” Myrick said. “I imagine it will be the same situation this coming January.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who is termed out after eight years and is running for City Council, left no doubt that she thinks a vacant seat could be a difference maker.

“The vacant council seat left by a winning mayoral candidate will be of great importance. It always is,” McLaughlin wrote in an email.

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