BUCKHANNON – The fewer details governing the procedure for filling vacancies that arise on Buckhannon City Council, the more flexibility council members will have in their decision-making process.
Five of seven Buckhannon City Council members have come to that conclusion, Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner said at council’s most recent meeting Nov. 17.
Skinner’s comments came in response to a statement made by city councilman David McCauley, who expressed disappointment that a proposed ordinance that would have established a specific procedure for filling future vacancies on council hadn’t been placed on the meeting agenda.
At city council’s Nov. 3 meeting, McCauley had requested the draft ordinance be placed on the Nov. 17 agenda.
The issue stems from an animated discussion that took place three months prior, at city council’s Aug. 18, 2022 meeting. At that meeting, council members voted 5-2 in favor of directing Buckhannon City Attorney Tom O’Neill to draft an ordinance outlining the process for filling vacancies that arise on city council until the next municipal election takes place.
The city charter states that when a vacancy occurs in the office of the mayor “from any cause,” the city recorder automatically becomes the mayor and serves in that spot until the next election. The charter also says that if a vacancy arises among council or in the office of the city recorder, “the remaining council shall, by a majority vote, fill such vacancy.”
At the August meeting, McCauley made a motion to direct the drafting of an ordinance that would delineate a particular protocol for council to follow when selecting a pool of candidates to consider – i.e., requiring candidates to submit letters of interest, for example. Councilwoman Pamela Bucklew seconded it, and McCauley, Bucklew, Buckhannon City Recorder Randy Sanders, councilman Dave Thomas and councilman CJ Rylands voted in favor of it.
However, Skinner and councilman Jack Reger voted against the motion.
At Thursday’s meeting, McCauley noted the ordinance had not been placed on the agenda despite his request.
“I want to re-express my disappointment that, after this council back in August approved a measure 5-2 to streamline and adopt an ordinance that would [outline the process] for replacing council members in the event of a vacancy, for that process to have kind of lingered for months and months now, and we still have not formally resolved it,” McCauley said. “I’d really like to formally resolve that.”
McCauley said he wanted the change of heart to be reflected in Thursday’s minutes.
“If folks have changed their minds about the ordinance, that’s fine,” he said, “but I think that we should have our minutes reflect that an ordinance that has been contrived – that’s been out there for two or three months now — that we’ve chosen as a body to not adopt it.”
“When I filed last January because of the dozens of folks that reached out and were disappointed with the handling of the previous filling of the vacancy by council, I made that one of the planks of my platform that I was successful when prevailing in the May  election,” McCauley added. “I don’t want to let it go. If it’s going to go the other way, then so be it, but let’s let the minutes reflect that.”
In years past, when a vacancy has arisen on council, council members have typically asked interested residents to submit letters detailing their qualifications, interviewed those candidates, and then selected the most qualified person via a majority vote.
However, council members deviated from that practice in August 2021 when, after an unprecedented Election-Night tie between Shelia Lewis-Sines and CJ Rylands in the June 9, 2020 city election, council appointed Lewis-Sines to fill the vacated city council seat left by Mary Albaugh.
Skinner, who sets the city council agendas, said the ordinance hadn’t been listed for consideration because it became clear to him that most members of council no longer supported it. The mayor said that after the Nov. 3 meeting, he received feedback from two council members who asked that the city “not consider drafting a vacancy ordinance” but instead continue to follow the procedure laid out in the city charter, which allows for more flexibility.
“After receiving this feedback, I decided to contact the other members of council who hadn’t either made their opinions known publicly or privately and as a result, five members of council – honestly, including myself – prefer that we take no action on this matter,” Skinner told McCauley. “The majority of council wishes that we retain the maximum flexibility, thus drafting an ordinance restricting our authorities that are bestowed upon us by the charter would ultimately be considered redundant and unnecessary, unnecessary.”
Skinner said it appeared that McCauley and Bucklew were the only two council members who still supported the proposed ordinance and “wanted the issue pushed.”
“As the chair of council who sets the agenda, out of respect and wishes for the majority of our council, I did not include the draft ordinance on discussion for agenda this week,” he said, “but if you’d like it in the minutes, I’m happy to file what I just read for the minutes with Randy under my remarks.”