Due to a couple of reasons, town commissioners put off approving a resolution calling for a special election in Swansboro that would coincide with the regular municipal election of November 2019.
Action on the resolution could have come at the board meeting of Tuesday, July 23. Mayor Pro Tem Frank Tursi said the decision was made to delay that action after consulting with Cliff Parson, the town’s attorney.
Swansboro will have to schedule a special election to fill the vacancy created when Commissioner Angela Clinton resigned in 2018.
“We delayed the resolution on Cliff’s advice,” Tursi said following the July 23 meeting. Tursi presided in the absence of Mayor John Davis. “There are still ongoing discussions with the state and county boards of elections. As I understand it, one question being discussed is whether current candidates can re-file.”
Filing for municipal office ended on July 19 with six men signing up to run for the three seats – but not the partial term – that will be decided on Nov. 5. Ideally, filing for the special election would have run concurrently with the regular election, but Onslow County Board of Elections Director Jason Dedmond said the county was not aware of the need.
Interim Town Manager Paula Webb said the notice to Onslow County of the need for the fourth-seat election went to Rose Whitehurst, Dedmond’s predecessor, in January.
Dedmond, who was recently hired to his position, said that he was aware the town would elect four commissioners in November. However, he said he was unaware of the need for the special election until conversation with Webb after filing had closed.
While Dedmond seemed certain that none of the current six candidates will be allowed to file for the seat, town officials were not so sure.
“Cliff wanted that and other questions resolved before the board acted,” Tursi said. “A special election will likely be required but passing a resolution at our next meeting, he said, will still allow plenty of time for the process to play out.”
In fact, the commissioners have scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 6. The meeting will be “to discuss and possibly call for a special election,” according to the written notice of a special meting.
Swansboro employs a five-commissioner system with terms staggered. Under normal circumstances, three commissioners are elected every two years with the top two finishers serving four-year terms and the candidate finishing third serving a two-year term. This allows for voters to choose a majority of the board every election cycle.
The mayor serves a four-year term but only has a vote in the case of tie. The current mayor’s term ends in 2021.
However, due to Clinton’s resignation early in her four-year term, this election will also decide who will fill the final two years of her term. Elected in November 2017, Clinton resigned about eight months later citing a “family health situation.”
Phil Keagy was appointed to replace her, with the stipulation that he would serve only through the swearing in of the 2019 election winners.
State statutes allow for, and require, a mid-term election in cases like this, absent a town charter superseding the state statute. Swansboro’s charter speaks to the issue of vacancies and appointments and does allow the commissioners to appoint a replacement “for the remainder of the term.”
However it was Clinton’s wish that the people have the option of voting on her replacement at the next –November 2019 – election. The town commissioners chose to respect that wish, according to Parson.
That is the other key question that Tursi said need clarification.
He said an answer is needed as to whether the town charter supersedes state laws.
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t,” Tursi said. “While the charter seems to allow Phil to serve the remainder of Angela’s four-year term, state law is pretty clear. He can serve until the next scheduled election. Angela’s wishes were immaterial. I certainly don’t recall taking them into consideration when we appointed Phil.”
The North Carolina General Statute on Vacancies states: “A vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council. If the term of the office expires immediately following the next regular city election, or if the next regular city election will be held within 90 days after the vacancy occurs, the person appointed to fill the vacancy shall serve the remainder of the unexpired term. Otherwise, a successor shall be elected at the next regularly scheduled city election that is held more than 90 days after the vacancy occurs, and the person appointed to fill the vacancy shall serve only until the elected successor takes office.”
And, while the town’s plans at this point are to follow that procedure, Parson said after the meeting that he is comfortable the town does have an option.
“This is what allowed the board to choose which method they would follow,” he explained, citing the North Carolina law that states: “When a procedure that purports to prescribe all acts necessary for the performance or execution of any power, duty, function, privilege, or immunity is provided by both a general law and a city charter, the two procedures may be used as alternatives, and a city may elect to follow either one.”
Parson then said, “Here, our charter gave us one option – filling for the remainder of Angela’s four-year term – while the State Statute gave us the other – filling until the next regular election.”
Once approved by the town, the request for a special must go to the Onslow County Board of Elections for consideration.
Barring the option of allowing one or more of the six officials candidates the option of seeking the Clinton/Keagy seat, a filing period would need to be scheduled.
Dedmond said that would be a five-day period.
The vote to decide will come on Election Day, Nov. 5. The regular election and the special election will all be on the same ballot, Dedmond said.
The six candidates who have filed include incumbents Tursi and Roy Herrick Jr. They will join Jeffrey Conaway, Laurent Meilleur, Harry “PJ” Pugliese and Jerry Seddon on the ballot.
The top two finishers will serve four-year terms and the candidate coming in third-place will serve for two years.
In addition to Herrick, Keagy and Tursi, Brent Hatlestad’s two-year term will come to an end.
While Election Day is Nov. 5, registered voters have the opportunity to vote in advance of that day.
According to information provided by the board of elections, deadlines for the upcoming municipal elections are:
• Filing for office began July 5 and ended July 19.
• Absentee ballots will be available beginning Oct. 4. Oct. 29 is the last day to request an absentee ballot, by 5 p.m.
• Voter registration or party affiliation change deadline is Oct. 11 at 5 p.m.
• One-stop voting will begin Oct. 16. One-stop voting will end Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. One-stop voting sites will be determined.
• Absentee ballots will be accepted through Nov. 5 at 5 p.m., unless they are mailed. Ballots mailed by civilians must be postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. Ballots mailed by military must be received by Nov. 14 at 5 p.m.
• The supplemental and provisional ballot meeting will be Nov. 14 at 3 p.m.
• The election canvass will be Nov. 15.
• Polls will open Election Day at 6:30 a.m. and will close at 7:30 p.m.
• Onslow County Board of Elections office is at 246 Georgetown Road in Jacksonville. The election office’s hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on holidays.
The phone number is (910) 455-4484.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.