PEMBROKE — Five months after Pembroke Councilman Robert Williamson died, his seat remains vacant on the Town Council.
The mayor and town attorney believe it’s time to fix that.
“They’re apparently struggling with whether that means they have to do it right now or can they just keep putting it off and going to it at some later time,” Town Attorney Gary Locklear said, adding that he’s surprised there hasn’t been “public outcry” on the amount of time the appointment is taking.
“Not one person has spoken, to my knowledge, during public comment to complain about the failure to make this appointment,” Locklear said. “… One could make the argument that there’s a segment of the population who is not being represented without this fourth person, and that’s a valid argument. Every person in the town could say that, if they chose to, and that’s our sign to go ahead and make the appointment.”
North Carolina General Statute 160A-63, which dictates procedures regarding vacancies in city government, says: “A vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council.”
Williamson died shortly after taking office, having been elected in November 2011. To appoint a replacement, the remaining council members nominate or suggest a candidate, who will then be voted on by the entire council, Locklear said.
There are presently three people on the four-person council, Allen Dial, Ryan Sampson and Larry Brooks. It would require two votes to seat a fourth council member. All council members are elected in at-large voting.
The council has no time limit on appointing a replacement, according to the statute, and Williamson’s seat could remain empty until the next election, November 2013.
Sampson attributed part of the delay to the council’s search for a new town manager to replace McDuffie Cummings, who retired in December after 34 years in the position. The council hired Oryan Lowry on July 20.
Sampson also said that Brooks’ unsuccessful run for the school board during the May primary left some doubt as to whether there would be one or two empty seats to be filled on the council.
“We were kind of waiting for that moment to see if we had to appoint two or one,” Sampson said. “He didn’t win, of course, then we had the budget up, so we didn’t want to bring a new council member in while we were doing the budget. … I’m ready.”
Locklear said he’s spoken with Mayor Milton Hunt, who plans to bring the matter up at the next Town Council meeting on Aug. 6. Hunt said five months is enough time to make the appointment.
“Undoubtedly, they just haven’t wanted to do it so far,” Hunt said. “… I’ve asked them several times, personally, about it. I got very little response on it.
“I’m not talking about everybody on the board. There are some people on there that would like to name a replacement, I’m sure. Hopefully all of them would like to name one, but I don’t know what the delay is at this point.”
Hunt said he has heard that some residents plan to speak on the matter during the public comments section of the next meeting.
“That’s good news to me, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The citizens of the town need a representative. Five months is ample time for a replacement to be made.”
Brooks and Councilman Allen Dial could not be reached for comment.