Commissioners want open selection for vacant seat

First Posted: 11/14/2009

With two members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners advocating appointing Teresa Lewis to an upcoming council vacancy, others including the woman who defeated Lewis last week for mayor want an open system.
It should be a process that is open to anyone, Deborah Cochran, presently a city commissioner and soon-to-be mayor, said Friday of how her replacement is picked.
This process should be transparent, open and fair to anyone who is interested in serving as a commissioner, added Cochran, who was declared the victor in the mayors election after a vote-tabulation error originally projected Lewis as the winner.
Cochran, who is at the midway point of her commissioner term, said the matter boils down to inclusion. That is so important in every aspect of government.
A fellow commissioner, Dean Brown, agrees that everyone should have an equal shot at the council vacancy, including Lewis. I would definitely like to see Teresa Lewis put in her hat as commissioner as well as any other citizen interested in the vacancy, Brown said.
Commissioner David Beal could not be reached for comment Friday concerning his views on the issue. However, Stephen Yokeley, wholl fill Beals South Ward seat next month when the latter steps down, also is leaning toward giving everyone a chance.
My thinking right now is it needs to be an open process, Yokeley said, although Teresa, I think, would be an excellent choice.
The issue of how Cochrans position of at-large commissioner will be filled arose last week at a board meeting held two days after the election.
Commissioner Todd Harris said at the meeting that he had every intention of supporting Lewis appointment to the council after Cochran takes over the mayors post in early December.
Jon Cawley, another board member, also said he favored selecting Lewis.
Ironically, Cawley joined the board through an open application process in 2008 after North Ward Commissioner Tom Bagnal resigned with about 16 months remaining in his four-year term.
The city solicited applications for that vacancy from the community at large, producing a dozen hopefuls. The procedure included a review of written materials submitted by the applicants outlining their qualifications, and candidates also were allowed to make a five-minute presentation at a commissioners meeting.
Board members used a ranking system to determine the appointee, and Cawley achieved the highest total score among the applicants. Cawley was elected to a full four-year term in last weeks city election, in which he ran unopposed.
Even though the Bagnal process was somewhat awkward, Brown said Friday, it was democratic. It gave all the citizens an opportunity to run for the seat. It wasnt done hastily at the last minute the process was well-thought-out.
That worked, Cochran said of the procedure used to choose Cawley. We got an outstanding commissioner hes just an amazing person.
Yokeley also pointed out that since the commissioners employed one method for the previous vacancy, they should be consistent. Since that precedent was set, we probably need to go by that again, said the commissioner-elect, who added that he would be giving more thought to the matter.

Second Election?
Brown indicated Friday that similar to the mayoral election itself, the issue of whether Lewis should be appointed outright has become a matter of contention which almost resembles another election.
Theres a lot of emotion in town about it, he said. I think the town is divided as much as Ive seen it in a long time over this.
Brown said that in addition to the procedure being used to appoint Cawley to replace Bagnal, such open processes are part of the citys fabric dating to its early years.
The North Ward commissioner, who is involved in a project to transcribe city government records, said council vacancies happened quite often based on his research of documents from the 1890s. In each case he has uncovered, the municipality asked citizens to volunteer to serve.
Its the only fair way to do it, Brown said.
This commissioner seat is not … something like a classroom teacher would give a second-place winner or a second runner-up a prize for participating.
The election for mayor has been held and now were opening up a new book where were having a candidate running for commissioner, which is a totally different thing, in my opinion, Brown added.

Lewis Excited
Lewis said Friday that she welcomes the opportunity to serve as a commissioner.
It was actually presented to me the day before the election, Lewis said of being asked about her willingness to fill Cochrans seat. She did not identify the source of that request, which arose as she was focusing on becoming mayor.
In the wake of last weeks election and the comments by Harris and Cawley, the former mayoral candidate said she has received support for the move from family members and friends.
And I thought this could be a way to serve in city government and I would be part of the policy-making. So Im all for it if the commissioners go that route, added Lewis. Im excited about the idea.
Should she not be selected, Lewis said she will continue to try to help the community as she has for years through leadership roles with various organizations.
Ill always serve this city I always have.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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