City Attorney - Aug. 22, 2018
State laws allow the City Council to choose between two methods for filling a vacant seat on the city council. The council can follow the provisions of the general state statute for filling elective seats for city governments or follow the provisions of a local act passed by the General Assembly in 1971 specifically for Winston-Salem.
N.C. General Statute 160A-63 stipulates that vacancies "in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council." The statute also stipulates that the appointee must be of the same political party as the person he or she replaces. The state statute does not say what process the City Council must follow in making the appointment.
The City Council is considering two options for appointing a replacement:
Option A: The executive committee of the Forsyth County Democratic Party would recommend a replacement. The City Council would vote on the recommendation at a public meeting.
Option B: The council would invite applications from citizens interested in filling the seat.
- Applicants would have to be eligible to vote, be residents of the East Ward and be registered Democrats (because the resigning council member is a Democrat).
- Applicants would submit a resume and written opinions on the top three challenges facing the city at large and the East Ward in particular. At a public meeting, members of the City Council would nominate candidates from the pool of eligible applicants, and the council would vote on the nominees.
- The two nominees with the most votes would be placed on a final ballot for vote by the City Council at a public meeting. Before that vote, the two finalists would make a presentation to the council, and the council could invite public comment on the finalists. The appointee would serve the remainder of the unexpired term.
However, the City Council also could choose to follow the process authorized by the General Assembly in a local legislative act for Winston-Salem passed in 1971 following the death of South Ward Alderman D. Fleat Chiddie just nine months into his term.
This act amended the city charter to allow the council to hold a special election to fill the seat when 12 months or more remain in the term of office. The act provides that the executive committees "of each political party" in Forsyth County nominate a candidate for the special election in the ward of the vacant seat. The special election must be held within 60 days after the vacancy occurs. Only the names of candidates nominated by the political parties would be on the ballot, and only East Ward residents would vote. The winning candidate would serve the remainder of the unexpired term. However, the 60-day time period specified in the local act does not mesh well with the timetables set forth in more recent state and federal laws regarding elections.
N.C. General Statute 160A-3 allows the city to use either process, at the council's discretion. A special election was held in 1971 to fill Chiddie’s seat. In 1973, 1980 and 2001, replacements were appointed.