The City of Delaware will be looking to fill a city council seat following the resignation of one of its members. Chris Jones, who served as council’s First Ward representative, stepped down last month after serving on council since 2010.
Jones was re-elected to his seat in 2019 after running unopposed for another term. Following his resignation, council members gathered for a work session on Monday to discuss the steps that will be taken to fill the seat with several months still remaining before the November election.
During Monday’s meeting, City Attorney Natalia Harris said that per the city’s charter, the seat will need to be filled on an interim basis up until the November election when the public will decide its permanent representative. City Manager Tom Homan presented a proposed timeline leading up to the selection of the interim council member, starting with Monday’s meeting. The city must now make the process public — via both its social media pages and in The Gazette, representing the next steps in the process ahead of applications being accepted.
While the charter lays out the general guidelines council must follow, some council members expressed their hesitancy in wanting to appoint a new member to council at this time. Councilwoman Lisa Keller said she is “struggling” with the idea of selecting an interim council member just three months prior to the election.
“It feels like a difficult position to be in this close to an election,” Keller said. “I think there are probably all of us sort of thinking the same thing.”
Keller speculated on the possibility that selecting a council member to serve for three months prior to the election would be giving that person “name recognition and an unfair advantage,” and in turn, interfering with the election process trusted to the citizens. She went on to ask whether or not council is bound to a specific timeline, and whether or not council could seek the input of residents to allow them their say on the open seat.
Responding to Keller, Harris said the city charter stipulates that because the vacancy happened more than 90 days away from an election, the seat must be filled prior to November. However, Harris said there is nothing in the charter that mandates a certain deadline be met prior to November.
Councilman George Hellinger echoed Keller’s concerns, saying, “Personally, I would love to leave it vacant until the election and let the voters decide. We’re just putting in our chosen candidate, and it’s not up to us, and it shouldn’t be up to us. We shouldn’t be giving anybody an unfair advantage.”
Ultimately, council decided to move forward with the application process that is stipulated in the city charter. Applications will begin being accepted today, with the window closing on June 30. Following the application window closing, two rounds of interviews will be conducted on July 8 and 15. The interviews will be open to the public with the hope of garnering public feedback, giving residents at least some say in the decision.
According to the timeline set by council, a swearing-in of the selected candidate will take place on Monday, July 26.
For more information on how the seat will be filled, contact Council Clerk Elaine McCloskey at 740-203-1013 or email her at [email protected]
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.