Newton council mulls vacancy

When a new mayor and city council take office in Newton next month, one of the group's first duties will be appointing a new member to the city's governing board.

Newton Mayor-Elect Anne Stedman leaves behind two years of an unexpired city council term when she assumes Newton's top elected position.

According to Catawba County Board of Elections elections specialist Marvin Bentley, the method used for filling vacant positions on municipal boards is outlined in the individual charters for cities in the county.

"The council shall fill all vacancies by death, resignation or otherwise in its membership which may occur during its term of office..." Newton City Charter states in Sec. 2-35.

If a quorum of council members can't be obtained for the appointment, the city's mayor has authority to fill the vacancy, but Stedman has voiced previously that filling her vacant council seat will be a decision for the entire Newton City Council to consider.

"I am hoping we can elect that person the night we are sworn in," Stedman said of the Dec. 13 meeting in which newly elected officials will take their positions. "There are several people who have put their name in the hat to be considered. The challenge for the council will be to talk about and come to a consensus on one person."

As Newton City Council mulls the decision, at least one citizen hopes elected officials consider a new voice.

"When you appoint someone for the vacant seat, fill it with a person who will serve all residents of the city of Newton, and I ask you to consider someone who has not served before," Dove Street resident Cindy Sigmon said during an open comment period in Newton City Council's Nov. 13 meeting. "We need new ideas to serve all citizens."

Council member Bill Lutz seemed to support that notion.

"I think it is always good to have new ideas and new blood," he said.

Stedman, too, said she thinks the council needs "new voices."

"There are some people who are ready and willing to serve, who I think would be excellent choices," she said. "I do think we need some new leadership."

Council member Tome Rowe, who has served Newton City Council 28 years, also said he thinks the governing board "needs a new person."

Stedman, Lutz and Rowe declined to reveal specific candidates being discussed for the council vacancy. Council members Wayne Dellinger and Robert Abernethy Jr. could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Council member Mary Bess Lawing said she hasn't discussed the position with other council members yet. She said, however, there are "pros and cons" to appointing someone with experience to the council over a new person.

"If you have somebody with previous experience, we would have the advantage of their experience," she said. "If you have somebody new, maybe you get some new, different ideas about how things should be going."

Some precedence for filling the vacancy has been set in Newton during the past decade. Stedman was originally appointed to Newton City Council in December 2003 to fill the unexpired term of Robert A. Mullinax, who was elected mayor. At the time of her appointment, Stedman had just finished fourth in a race for three open council seats. She has been re-elected twice since her appointed term expired.

In the municipal election for 2011, Stedman defeated Wes Weaver, who is the highest vote-getter who was not elected to office. Stedman defeated Weaver by
91 votes.

Weaver's "name is in the hat" among others being considered for the council vacancy, Stedman said.

"There are a lot of citizens that would feel motivated and included if I were appointed to council," Weaver said. " The election for mayor was so close I think it makes sense to add the name, Wes Weaver to Newton City Council.

Weaver was the only challenger in the Newton mayoral race. In the Newton City Council race, voters re-elected incumbents, Rowe, Lawing and Dellinger. There was only one other candidate in the council race.

Challenger Mae L. McLean fell short of Dellinger by 336 votes.

Weaver argues that city council should fill the vacancy with a person who has sought elected office officially.

"It would be a shame and an injustice if our council ignored the voice of its very own people and appointed someone who didn't make an attempt to earn the open seat during the last election," he said.