Residents of District 3 have until 5 pm Friday to express their interest in being appointed to fill a vacant seat on the City Council. No signatures are required but interested candidates must submit a letter of interest and complete an application form. The City Council will choose someone from that pool at its January 23 meeting to serve until Town Meeting Day.
On Town Meeting Day, voters will then choose a candidate to serve the remaining year on the term of Ashley Hill, who resigned last month. Candidates for the special election must submit 25 signatures from district voters; candidates for the interim appointment do not need to acquire signatures, and they will not automatically be included on the ballot.
The resignation means there will be two open seats in District 3 for the March 3 election: Hill’s one-year seat and the two-year seat being vacated by Councilor Glen Coburn Hutcheson. Resident Gene Leon has already filed signatures to appear on the ballot and is seeking Hutcheson’s spot. He also said he will seek the interim appointment. Montpelier attorney Daniel Richardson is also seeking the appointment and is likely to run for Hill’s one-year seat, he said.
Hill’s resignation could lead to a proposal to change the way such vacancies are handled. According to the city charter, the City Council must appoint a replacement for any councilor who resigns with more than 90 days left in their term. It also specifies that an election be held at the next annual city meeting to allow voters to choose a candidate to complete the member’s term —in Hill’s case, to serve through Town Meeting Day 2021.
Although Town Meeting Day is only 10 weeks away, an interim appointment is required to serve until the election, but city officials say they aren’t sure that was the intent when the charter was written.
“We have to make an appointment according to the current wording of the ordinance and that person would serve until Town Meeting Day, at which point we would have an election for a one-year seat,” Mayor Anne Watson said.
While it’s up to the Council how to go about appointing an interim member for District 3, Watson said she will propose that candidates seeking to replace Hill submit 25 signatures from district voters along with a letter of interest, and the Council will choose from that pool. That was the process for the past three Council vacancies, City Manager Bill Fraser said.
The issue that could lead to a change in the charter’s language is whether it makes sense, or was the intention of the ordinance, to require an appointment so close to the next annual meeting.
“I’m not sure that was the intent, but if you read it, it’s clear that they need to make an appointment,” Fraser said. “But then it does call for a special election, so it’s clear that that appointment is only until the next election, which is why I think the 90 days was meant to be until the next election. But the strictest reading says it’s got to be filled.”
If the Council decides to change the language in the charter to clarify whether an appointment is needed in cases where a member resigns with fewer than 90 days left until the next annual meeting, that would need to be put before voters and, if approved, go to the Legislature for their blessing.
Two Spots Open in District 3
Hill was first elected in 2017 and reelected in 2019. She has been a strong advocate for low-income residents and has been a minority voice, at times, in opposing budget increases.
“At this juncture in my life, I need to focus on regrouping and focusing on my own overall health so that I am able to continue my advocacy work in the long term,” Hill wrote in a letter to the council and her constituents.
Hill issued a tearful farewell at the end of the December 18 Council meeting, after which her fellow members and Mayor Anne Watson praised her contributions to the city.
As it stands, four City Council seats will be up for grabs on Town Meeting Day as well as the mayor’s seat, which Watson has announced she plans to seek again. Incumbents Dona Bate in District 1 and Conor Casey in District 2 also plan to seek reelection.
From the City Charter
“A vacancy on the City Council shall occur upon the death, removal from the district, inability to serve, or resignation of a Council member. A vacancy in the office of Council member with more than 90 days of unexpired term remaining shall be filled by the remaining members of the City Council. At the next annual meeting of the City, the unexpired term of the office shall be filled by election for the balance of the unexpired term.”