CAPE CARTERET — Commissioner Mike King won’t have to run for election to his appointed seat Tuesday, Nov. 5, thanks to a 4-0 board vote during an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon in the town hall of Dolphin Street.
Mr. King recused himself from the discussion and the vote, and Mayor Dave Fowler votes only to break ties. Three of the four other commissioners, Minnie Truax, Don Miller and Steve Martin, said when they appointed Mr. King in a split vote in December 2017 to replace Commissioner Jerry Ferguson, they had done so with the idea he was being appointed to complete Mr. Ferguson’s four-year term, which expires in 2021.
Commissioner Charlie Evans, who said he would prefer Mr. King stand for election so the “people can have their say,” voted in favor of Thursday’s motion.
The board was advised on the issue by Town Attorney Brett DeSelms, who said although state statute generally says appointed municipal councilmen and commissioners must stand for election in the next election after appointment, the statutes also state that if there is a conflict between the local government charter and the statute, the local board or council can choose either option.
The town’s charter, approved years ago by the state, reads, in part, “If a vacancy occurs in in the office of Mayor or Commissioner, it shall be filled for the remainder of the unexpired term by a majority vote of the remaining members of the board of commissioners. The Mayor and the members of the board of commissioners shall be qualified electors of the town.”
Mr. DeSelms said it was not clear in the board’s December 2017 meeting minutes whether the commission’s intent was to follow state statute or the town charter.
Town Manager Zach Steffey said he thought it was the right thing for the board to make a public declaration of its intent during the December meeting, as did Mayor Dave Fowler.
Mr. Evans said he knew the town could, under its charter, appoint a replacement commissioner to fill all of an unexpired term and also knew it had been done in the past. But, he said, just because it’s been done that way in the past doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
“I have nothing against Mike King,” he added. “We don’t always agree, but we disagree without being disagreeable.”
He said he thought it would be best for the people to vote on whether Mr. King should remain on the board now.
He noted that Mr. King told the News-Times this week he would file for office for the November race if necessary.
In the end, Mr. Evans went along with the other three commissioners and voted for the motion to follow the charter. The motion was made by Mr. Martin and seconded by Ms. Truax.
There was some acrimony during the discussion.
Mr. Martin pointedly asked Mr. Evans, who has filed to run for mayor Nov. 5, “Why this election is so special” to him.
Mr. Evans replied that he just wanted to let the voters have their say.
“I know in my mind” why the issue came up Wednesday, two days before the municipal filing deadline, Mr. Martin said.
Mr. DeSelms said the need for the meeting arose because the county elections office questioned whether the town was following state statute.
Town Manager Steffey said he got a call from the BOE stating a resident’s complaint triggered the issue.
Mr. Martin responded that “we all know who” made the complaint, but said he wasn’t ready to make that public.
Mayor Dave Fowler, who as of Thursday afternoon has not filed for re-election, said the purpose of the meeting was “not to belittle anyone” and called for the vote.
Earlier in the meeting, he defended the town’s longstanding practice of going by its charter instead of state statute in filling vacant commission seats, noting that he, too, had once been appointed by a Cape Carteret Town Commission and served out an unexpired term.
Resident Will Baker has also filed for the mayor’s race and Patricia Ruddiman and Jeff Waters have filed for commissioner.
Mr. King was one of three commissioners who in January 2018 voted to amend the town’s charter to change from a town administrator form of government to a town manager form, and one of four who voted then to elevate then-Administrator Zach Steffey to the manager post. Those decisions proved controversial.
The other commissioners who voted for the charter change were Mr. Martin, whose seat is not up for election this year, and Ms. Truax, while Mr. Evans and Mr. Miller voted against the changes.
Residents opposing the change hosted a petition drive, ultimately leading to a referendum on the November ballot.
The language on the ballot will state: “Shall the ordinance adopted by the Town of Cape Carteret on October 8, 2018, which would change the Town’s form of government from the current Council-Manager form of government (Town Manager), to a Mayor-Council form of government, be approved? Yes or No.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.