A vacancy in the District D Council spot will be filled by someone appointed by the remaining members of the Town Council.
The opening was created when West End Councilor Ken Woodland resigned in early April to take a job that would not allow him to serve on the Council. This week, the Council discussed options for how to fill, and whether or not to fill, the open seat until the November Town Election.
Because the vacancy occurred during the second year of the two-year term, the Council can appoint a replacement with a vote of six of eight members. They could also vote to hold a special election (also requiring a six-vote majority), said Town Attorney Mark Reich from KP Law. The person would serve until the winner of the Nov. 2 election is sworn in (likely within days of the election).
Another option would be to not fill the seat. Town Council President Mark Sideris said he leaned in that direction. He anticipated the process would start with putting out a call for applicants for two to three weeks, and then the Council would have to come up with a process to select the person and then interview applicants. The subcommittee would likely recommend someone, who would need to get six votes to be appointed to the seat.
“I am aware how busy we are, how many meetings we are having. By the time we get through all these different processes, being realistic, it will be late-June/early-July until we come up with a candidate,” Sideris said.
Some have said that District D does not have a representative on the Council, but Sideris argued that those residents have four at-large Councilors and himself representing them.
“I got a call this week from someone in District D that I was able to handle and get back to them,” he said. “I would say that argument doesn’t really stand, in my mind. There are five people representing every district.”
Sideris noted that the Charter does not specify that the person appointed would have to live in District D, but he would be in favor of that requirement. If someone was appointed, Sideris said he would be in favor of having a requirement that the person does not run for the seat in the November Town Election.
Councilor Lisa Feltner said the Council has some big votes coming up and she prefers to have the full complement of nine councilors voting on them. She also said it feels to her like it would be a “dereliction of duty” for the Council not to at least try to fill the seat.
“If no one comes forward, or no one good comes forward, we don’t have to appoint anyone,” Feltner said. “Do I want to be spending more time on this? No, I think our plates are full — but I think it is lazy to leave it and not fill it and just leave it up to the voters and wait nine months when we really do have a lot going on.”
She added that she does not oppose having the person appointed running for the seat in November, and said that has worked out well in the past for the School Committee.
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that the last time there was a vacancy in the middle of a term, someone with experience was available to step in. In 2018, At-Large Councilor Michael Dattoli resigned when he moved out of town and former At-Large Councilor Susan Falkoff was selected to fill out the term. She had not sought re-election for that term, and agreed not to run for the seat in the next election.
Councilor Anthony Donato said it is not easy to just jump onto the Town Council.
“Especially if we were to appoint someone who has never been elected to the Council before, I think any new first-time Town Councilors would agree, there is a huge learning curve,” Donato said. “To be able to get up to speed in a couple of weeks, and potentially to lose the elect and be removed in November, it seems like there would be a lot of work and might not in the end work out.”
Councilor Caroline Bays said she believes the seat should be filled, and added that she did not think the process would take as long as Sideris laid out.
“I think we should be proceeding, and filling the position,” Bays said. “I think that is what the Charter is saying.
Piccirilli said he was torn between what to do. He leaned against appointing someone. One reason was that the person would only likely be attending five Council meetings before the November election.
Feltner said that there would also be subcommittee meetings during that time.
The Council voted on whether to appoint someone to fill the seat. However, they did not decide whether the person would be allowed to run for election in November or how the appointment process would work. Those items would be discussed by the subcommittee and voted on by the Council at a future meeting, Sideris said.
The Council voted 4-3 on the decision to appoint someone to fill the seat, with Donato, Sideris and Piccirilli voting no. Councilor Angeline Kounelis voted “present” because she joined the meeting after the discussion started, and did not hear all the commentary.
After the vote, Sideris asked the Councilors interested in serving on the subcommittee that will set up the process and interview candidates to contact the Town Council Clerk by April 30.