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How Will Barbara Foushee’s Seat Be Filled?
A perspective from Terri Buckner
In February 2006, Dan Coleman was appointed to replace Mark Chilton on the Carrboro Town Council, after Chilton was elected mayor. Coming on the heels of the town’s decision to annex the area north of town against the wishes of the residents, much of the anger and distrust created by that appointment process persists today.
The appointment process itself was lengthy and extremely contentious. There were 12 candidates originally asking to be appointed to the open seat, including some who had run for one of the three open seats during the regular election. But by the time the Council began voting, there were only three candidates, one of whom had received the fourth highest number of votes in the fall election.
The first night of the Council vote went six rounds. By the end of those six rounds, there was a 3-3 tie between Coleman and Lydia Lavelle, neither of whom had run during the fall election. Newly elected Alderwoman Haven O’Donnell, who had previously been voting for Lavelle, broke the tie on the second night of voting by casting her vote for Coleman saying, “in the interest of the greater good for Carrboro, I saw it as critical that we seize the moment as we were still talking about our top two choices. We needed to demonstrate flexibility and move on, and I think we have.” (Quote from the Indy, Everybody Wins, 2/8/2006)
Three months later, the Alderman submitted a request to the General Assembly to modify the section of the Town Charter that outlines the process for filling an empty seat for Town Council. Mark Chilton and Joal Broun (now Judge Broun), both attorneys, were members of the Council at that time.
The revised Charter (Section 2-2f) reads:
”Vacancies that occur on the Town Council (other than vacancies in the office of Mayor) shall be filled by appointment of the Town Council in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 160A-63, except that whenever a seat on the Town Council (other than that of the Mayor) becomes vacant at a time when one year or more of the term of office of that seat remains unexpired, the Town Council may instead adopt a resolution pursuant to G.S. 163-287 calling for a special election to fill such vacancy. Such an election shall not be scheduled during the time period beginning on the first Monday in July and ending on the last Monday in August in any calendar year. [Added by Ch. SL 2007-270 on 07/27/2007, Amend. By SL 2013-113 on 06/18/2013]”
While this language still allows for vacated seats to be appointed, there has not been an appointment since the Charter was revised. Damon Seils was the first Council member to be elected via special election after Dan Coleman vacated his seat to move to Australia. Special elections were held after both Lydia Lavelle and Damon Seils were elected as mayor, leaving their Council seats empty.
In 2017, three Council seats were up for re-election (November). But in May of that year, Council member Michelle Johnson announced her decision to move out of the area, vacating her seat. The Council decided that the candidate receiving the fourth highest number of votes in that November election would complete Johnson’s unexpired term. Eliazar Posada won the most recent special election on May 17, 2022.
Since Barbara Foushee’s seat is not up for re-election until 2025, which is more than one year away, the Town’s Charter and the wisdom of past Councils leaves little support for an appointment process to fill her Council seat. When the Council pursued a special election to fill Lavelle’s seat in 2014, the IndyWeek wrote, “First off, kudos to Carrboro leaders for putting this election on the ballot. Board members could have simply tapped their own replacement for the seat, which was vacated when Lydia Lavelle moved into the mayor’s post last year.”
An Orange County election is already scheduled for March and, according to the director of the Orange County Board of Elections, as long as this special election is held in conjunction with that March election, there will be no cost to Carrboro. However, to take advantage of this no-cost option, a decision will need to be made by the newly seated Council and Mayor on Tuesday, December 5.
If the decision is to pursue a special election, filing for the open seat will begin at noon on December 4 and close at noon on December 15, the same as for the open County Commissioner seats.
“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” (John Lewis, 2019)
“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.