BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council on Thursday appointed Shelia Lewis-Sines to fill the vacated city council seat left by Mary Albaugh, who tendered her letter of resignation earlier this month.
Council members said they chose Sines after hearing from constituents over the past weeks and listening to those who attended Thursday’s Buckhannon City Council meeting.
During the Aug. 19 meeting, councilman David Thomas made a motion to appoint Sines to the vacated seat, which was seconded by councilman Jack Reger, who participated in the meeting virtually. Thomas, Reger, CJ Rylands, city recorder Randy Sanders and mayor Robbie Skinner voted to appoint Sines. Pamela Bucklew abstained from the vote but declined to say why.
Albaugh announced her resignation at council’s Aug. 5 meeting, about nine months prior to her term expiring in May 2022, when the next city election will take place.
Sines addressed council at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, saying it seemed unnecessary for council to accept applications for the position because she had already applied, referring to her run in the June 9, 2020, city election. On election night, Rylands and Sines had tied at 423 votes. Then, following that election, the canvassing board determined that Rylands was the winner and would retain his seat as the third top vote-getter. He edged out Sines, the challenger, by just six votes, 437-431.
“I feel I did apply for a space on City Council. I ran a campaign. I received money. I spent money on campaign materials. I did everything that is called to do to be elected to city council which is an elected position,” Sines said. “There is not another election for almost another year. I would understand if someone wanted to run for the seat at that time, but I have run, and the seat needs filled.”
During the last election for the seat, city residents spoke clearly, Sines said.
“I did not get a small number of votes (during the last election) because CJ (Rylands) and I were tied for a week, and he got the seat,” Sines said. “I am appreciative of him and what he does for this city. However, I do feel the city spoke and if we just ignore their voices – that is your constituency – I want to stand for them. I am not here for me or you. I am here for the people who stood up for me and who asked for me and who went to the polls and made their voice known.”
Several residents spoke in support of Sines being appointed to fill Albaugh’s seat.
Ron Pugh told council the person who collected the next highest number of votes should be the one appointed to fill the vacant seat.
“It has been done in the past and I think it should continue,” Pugh said. “It is evident the people spoke – Shelia got a heck of a lot of votes. It stands to reason she should be the one appointed to this position. I have talked to a lot of people in the last week-and-a-half and the general feeling is that she should be appointed.”
Resident Jody Light agreed.
“I do not think [this decision] is about Shelia Sines at all,” Light said. “I think it is about the 431 people who voted for her, including me. If you dismiss those votes and disregard them, you have done a disservice to everyone who voted for her. I think she is one person, but she represents the 431 people who voted for her.”
Jerry Henderson urged council to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible.
“Another choice could be to wait until the next municipal election to fill the vacancy,” Henderson said. “I think that causes the citizens who voted for Sines and others to say, ‘We have a lack of representation.’ If we voted for this [candidate] and she is not sitting on City Council and there is no one there for half a year to a year, my representation or what I voted for is being left out.”
Resident Gloria Fisher said she’s learned firsthand that elections can get “dirty.”
“I have heard slander from people against the Muslims and our Black brothers and sisters,” Fisher said. “I am just saying, for someone to sit on the city council and represent me and my family which has half-and-half Muslim descendants – it breaks my heart because my God has told me to love all people – all races, all genders.”
Fisher asked council to move with caution regarding the appointment.
“The choices that people make are theirs, but I do not want someone sitting on a council seat that says, ‘death to all Muslims,’ death to the little kid next door that does not look like the rest of the white children in the school system,” she said. “I want someone who is representing our [city] that feels a lot like I do – that they respect all people – all genders and all races.”
Fisher told council they have a large seat to fill.
“Just because [someone] lost by one vote, that does not mean that seat should be filled by [that person],” Fisher said. “Everyone needs that chance again for another vote for another candidate. So, I am asking our City Council to consider very wisely on the decisions you make filling this seat. God wants us to love all people and as you fill this seat, I want somebody there who will respect and love our town people for who they are.”
Buckhannon City Council members also shared their thoughts on the matter. Rylands said during his tenure on council, there have been several opportunities to make appointments to vacancies.
“I think one of the points you are missing here is that four council members have to agree (on who gets appointed), so if we are going to have a decision like that, I do not think four of us would agree,” Rylands said. “The process the whole time I have been here is to ask people to submit a letter of interest and submit to the questions, and then we can make a decision based on current, accurate information by actually talking to these individuals. Of the last nine appointees, according to [city finance and administrative director and assistant city recorder] Amberle Jenkins, seven were interviewed.”
Rylands said by changing that process, council would be changing a precedent.
“I do not disagree with all of the points the speakers have made – there is validity in all of that,” Rylands said. “But as a fiduciary and as a businessman, I want to make my decisions on the best accurate information that I have.”
Bucklew said she thought if Albaugh had resigned two weeks or two months following the last municipal election, she could see council filling the position with the next runner-up in the election.
“But that is not the case,” Bucklew said. “It has been nearly 16 months. I think we should take letters of interest because there were other people who ran for the same position, and they paid for it – they had support.”
Bucklew said she feels if there would be another election today, other people would run.
“I think we should take letters of interest,” Bucklew. “I personally would like to see some younger people get out and take an interest in their city.”
Jack Reger said Sines should be appointed to fill the seat.
“I have given this a considerable amount of thought,” Reger said. “Shelia received a considerable number of votes and support and when people resign, for whatever reason, all things need considered. My stance is we place Shelia in the vacancy.”
City recorder Randy Sanders said it has been a tough couple of days mulling over the decision.
“I spoke with Shelia at length the other night and I gave her my thoughts,” Sanders said. “I think there should be guardrails in place when you are talking about a seat on city council or any body like this. I do not want to see us in a situation where the next vote-getter is automatically put in, but, in this case, the votes were very, very close. It is a situation where there was a tie and then a recount and just a six-vote margin. You have to give that consideration.”
However, Sanders stressed that if Sines was appointed in this case, the decision should not establish a precedent.
“I think council, by charter, always has the option of reviewing the appointment process,” Sanders said. “That is important because there always has to be guardrails in place. I am very passionate about that. I do feel Shelia did earn the position with those votes – and if it comes down to that tonight, Shelia will get my vote.”
Skinner thanked everyone for sharing their viewpoints, adding that he has “been all over the map” trying to figure out how to move forward.
“Mr. Sanders is correct. The charter does not solidify a certain process,” Skinner said. “It is the council’s will to choose its path forward to fill a vacancy. It could be a different method each time, and that is probably not a bad idea because you do not know the political landscape at the time.”
Skinner said the agenda item was phrased as ‘Begin discussion to fill vacated city council position,’ so council didn’t feel they had to necessarily fill the slot that evening.
“Each member of council has the authority and the right to vote however they wish to do so,” Skinner said. “This week and last week, I have spoken with close to 50 people – some of whom came to me and some I sought after. I was genuinely interested in opinions of the community. I have talked to folks across the political spectrum because we are nonpartisan elected officials here. There is no Democrat sewer, there is no Republican Street, there is no conservative water line, there is no Liberal Highway.”
“This council is here to do what is best for our community – regardless – to represent everybody who lives here,” he added. “Anyone who would join this council needs to be of that belief system: that we are here to do what is best for our community. We all have to check our personal beliefs and values at the door when we walk in. As mayor of this city, I do not agree with everything we do, but that is okay. I do not have to. I am not supposed to.”
Skinner said he did not see how council could ignore the fact that Sines received a tremendous amount of support.
“I am looking at it from the perspective of ‘that individual ran and that individual received a tremendous amount of support,’” Skinner said. “For me it is not about Shelia; it is about who ran and garnered that amount of support from all of the people who put us there as well.”
After the vote to appoint Sines to the vacated seat, Skinner told Sines he would be in touch with her so she could be sworn in for the position. Sines said desiring the seat was not “about her.”
“I can assure you it is about the people,” Sines said following the vote.