Aldermen may finally adopt a policy and practice statement regarding vacancies in city government

Absence of such a policy and the council’s decisions regarding filling vacancies created turmoil in the past


IMG_3171-Strey-signs-papersMalcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

Tom Strey signs official papers after being appointed by the common council to fill out the unexpired term of the late Lora Mae Cochran in April 2013. City Clerk Diane Coenen is on the left in file photo.

It’s been a long time coming, but the city, strung by a series of resignations from the Oconomowoc Common Council over the past couple of years, may finally have a policy spelling out that actions it will take when such openings pop up.

In the last two years, vacancies have occurred with surprising regularly, with the Dave Nold’s appointment as mayor last month leaving District 4 without an alderman.

Other recent unexpected vacancies included Rich Allen (District 2) Cathleen Slattery (District 3), and Lora Mae Cochrane (District 2). The council attempted to appoint a replacement for Allen in August of 2013 that resulted in a contentious series of council meetings before It decided to hold a special election. Enough candidates surfaced to require a primary election and then a final vote, with Ken Herro elected by the district’s voters to the council

When Slattery resigned, also in 2013, the council debated its options and instead of having a special election, it appointed Denny Daggett in November to fill out her unexpired term. But Daggett then lost the seat to current Ald. Matt Rosek in the General Election held in April of 2014.

Cochrane’s seat was filled by current Ald. Tom Strey in April, 2013, after a vote of the council.

Not having a formal policy and practice in place to provide clear direction to the council has irritated several aldermen who wanted to take the politics out of the process. Several also expressed a distaste for having the council appoint an elected representative, instead of the voters in a given district. Those same issues surfaced again last month when the aldermen decided to appoint a replacement for former Mayor Jim Daley instead of voting to wait until the General Election in April, 2016, or leaving the post vacant, with Nold, as the council president, serving as the interim mayor. Because there was no policy and practice in place, the aldermen–once again-became embroiled in a debate about the proper course of action.

A proposed policy and practice statement, drafted by city staff,  will be discussed at Thursday night’s meeting. While the aldermen have the option to revise or even ignore the staff draft, it should serve as a base document.

City Clerk Diane Coenen, whose office is responsible for all city elections, said Monday that it is possible the council will approve a policy Thursday night and then on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the next council meeting, the aldermen will decide what to do about the Nold vacancy, based on the statement.

Given that Nold was just reelected this past April to a two-year term as one of the two District 4 representatives (Charlie Shaw is the other) the Council–if past informal practice is followed–will call for a special election.

There are multiple timing issues here, but it is possible that notice of the election could be given on Aug. 19, which would create a window within which the city must hold an election. State law comes into play here, so election must be held within a 72-day period.

Coenen said this week that the city will want to publish a legal notice stating that the position is vacant and that the city is accepting nomination papers for candidates seeking the post. Those papers, available on the city’s website or from Coenen’s office, must have a minimum of 20 valid voter signatures. Coenen says her office advises potential candidates to have 30 signatures, which ensures that candidates will have more than enough valid signatures. Her office checks all the signatures and if someone is not a registered voter in District 4, their signatures will be invalidated.

If more than three people are seeking the seat, a primary election will be held with the two top vote-getters squaring off in the final election.

The council does have other options, including appointing someone to replace Nold on the council, or it may decide to simply leave the seat vacant until the next scheduled election, which would be in April. If enough candidates decide to run for mayor, there will be a primary in February.

If this all sounds complex or confusing, don’t worry. It is both. The intent, however, is to have a policy in place that covers all the contingencies. We’’ll know Thursday night if the council has succeeded with its attempt to streamline and smooth out the process.

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