Swan's Cape Girardeau City Council replacement will require special election

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It will at least take one special election. Maybe two. And Cape Girardeau City Council members will have to appoint someone in the interim.

The task of replacing Councilwoman Kathy Swan, who is poised to assume a Missouri House seat early next year, doesn't look to be a simple one. But with nine months remaining until she is expected to officially resign, city officials said there is plenty of time to get organized.

Swan said Wednesday she will step down sooner than Dec. 31 if it will help streamline a process being done this way in Cape Girardeau for the first time. She will definitely do so, she said, if it will save taxpayer dollars.

"I'll do whatever makes the most sense for the city and would be the most economical," Swan said a day after the filing deadline, making her a virtual lock for the 147th House District as the only candidate for the office.

"I said I would stay on until the last minute to fulfill my commitment to the job and my responsibilities to the city," she said. "But if we determine and discover the best thing for the city to meet certain time frames, I'm glad to accommodate what the city sees as best."

Whether that will be asked of her is as yet unclear. When Swan resigns, it will kick in a city charter requirement that has not been used since the city document was revised in 2006 to amend the way council vacancies are filled.

The last time there was a council resignation, there were actually two in late 2005. Hugh White resigned in November that year to take a job out of town, and Jay Purcell resigned a month later after he won election to the Cape Girardeau County Commission.

Both seats sat vacant until a special election the following April, a fact that city attorney Eric Cunningham said helped prompt the modification of the charter's section regarding filling empty council seats in 2006.

"It was largely in response to that circumstance," Cunningham said. "People wanted there to be someone representing them on the council in the interim."

60 days

The charter now says a vacancy must be temporarily filled by a council appointee within 60 days. The person the council selects will hold the Ward 6 seat until a special election can be held for the remainder of the term set to expire in April 2014.

So if Swan waits until the end of December to resign, the council could appoint an interim replacement at its first meeting in January, Cunningham said. There are several ways they could do that, Cunningham said, since nothing is spelled out in the charter on that matter. Council members could nominate and vote on candidates themselves or they could ask for applications similar to the way they appoint city board and commission members. The only requirement would be that the person would have to be at least 21 years of age, a registered voter and a resident of Ward 6 for 90 days immediately before the date of the vacancy.

The council will set the filing period by resolution about the same time as Swan's resignation, Cunningham said. In that schedule, it will specify that within a week following the filing period, the council will hold a special meeting to adopt an emergency ordinance calling for an election. If there are one or two candidates, only a general election will be needed. But two or more would require a primary and a general that would likely be two months apart.

City statutes require a monthlong filing period be open 15 weeks before an election that could take place in April or June. Candidates interested in replacing Swan on the council would have to use that time to gather petitions with the signatures of 50 registered voters in Ward 6. Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers would have to be notified of the election 10 weeks before, Cunningham said.

Each election would cost about $5,000 and the time frame is such that the requirements may not be able to be met in time for an April election if Swan waits until the end of the year to resign. Swan agreed it made little sense to expend such time, effort and money for someone to run for what could amount to a nine-month term if someone isn't voted in until June.

If she were to resign earlier, Swan said, it may allow the council to act more quickly and get the election on the April ballot. Swan did point out that school board elections are held every April, so the cost for another race in one ward may be nominal.

Swan also agreed the new system of appointing an interim council replacement could create an advantage for the appointee if they were interested in running for the remainder of the term. The council would basically be creating an incumbent with a few months of experience.

Mayor Harry Rediger said he hasn't spent any time thinking about it yet.

"We have the whole year and we're going to take advantage of Kathy's expertise on the council for as long as we can," Rediger said. "We have a full year and it is a very important decision. As a council, we need to look pretty seriously at the process, whatever that ends up being."

Swan may yet see a challenger in the general election in November for the House seat. While filing to run under a political party's banner ended Tuesday, candidates who want to run as independents still have until July 30 to declare their candidacy.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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