Board should follow its own lead, open vacant seat to the public

First Posted: 11/14/2009

In the days following the Nov. 3 election of Deborah Cochran to the post of Mount Airy mayor, at least two city commissioners said they wanted to see Teresa Lewis, who lost the mayoral election, appointed to the commission.
The board vacancy, of course, is being caused because Cochran was already on the commission and will be giving up her seat to assume the mayors post.
Since those first days after the election, however, other members of the board have said the selection process should be opened up for anyone in the community to apply for the post, with the board ultimately selecting from among those applicants the new commissioner.
This, we believe, is the way the process should be carried out.
That is no reflection on Lewis, nor should it be taken as opposition to the idea of her serving on the commission. But to select one person without opening up the seat to the community at large would give the perception that commissioners are more interested in getting individuals of a like mind to serve with them, rather than finding the best available candidate to fill the seat.
The process of accepting applications is one that worked well just last year when North Ward Comissioner Tom Bagnal stepped down. The commissioners accepted applications from anyone in his ward who was interested in the seat, discussed those applicants various stengths and weaknesses, then ranked them using a point system. In the end, Jon Cawley gained the seat through this process. The fact that he ran for re-election in November and won without opposition would seem to indicate his constituents are happy with the selection.
So why not do the same for the seat about to be open when Cochran takes the mayors post?
As Commissioner Dean Brown said, the open commission seat should not be viewed as a consolation prize to the candidate who finished second in the mayoral race. It is incumbent upon the board members to open the selection process up to anyone who is interested, to do so without any preconceived notions of who should take the seat, and select the person from among that field of applicants who they believe would best serve the interest of city residents.
That person might very well turn out to be Lewis, and if so we would certainly be among the first to support the boards decision to appoint her. But the city will never know who is the best person for the job if the process isnt opened up to the public.

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