Dexter City Council still has a vacancy to fill

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The Dexter City Council still has a vacancy and the clock is ticking on the 60 day window set open to fill it.

Going into the May 10 meeting, it appeared the council might make a decision on the vacancy left by Julie Knight, who stepped down from her role at the end of March. 

The agenda for the May 10 meeting did have an item about an appointment. Mayor Shawn Keough put forth the nomination of Joseph Semifero.

There were five city residents interested in the vacancy and who submitted letters of interest. They were: Cole Miller, Semifero, Rich Bellas, Sanam Arab and Julie Wilkinson.

In his recommendation report, Keough said in part, “Based on the 5 applications received, the 5 interviews conducted, and the experience level of the various candidates, I am hereby recommending and nominating Joseph Semifero to fill the vacancy on City Council for the remainder of the term ending in November 2022.”

“Mr. Semifero has been a resident since 2001 and has an impressive and significant amount of Council experience and familiarity with the City, having served on Village and City Council from 2002 to 2015, as well as several other Village/City Boards as a representative of the Village/City Council. Mr. Semifero is the only applicant with Village/City Council experience and was elected 5 consecutive times by Village/City residents. He more recently volunteered and served as the Chair of our Housing Task Force and is a current member of our Board of Review. While on Council, Mr. Semifero worked on many important initiatives, both with staff and other Council members, including our Utility Committee to help the City find a location for our 5th public water well, and on our Street’s Committee led to develop our most recent Street Maintenance Plan.”

Keough said Semifero’s “familiarity with so many areas of our City government and ability to work with others will make him an excellent choice to fill the vacancy.”

However, the council delayed the decision as it took up a debate, basically about the process to fill a vacancy. This debate occurred during part of the Monday meeting and then into a budget work session on May 12.

The debate saw some council members questioning whether or not the process should change to give the entire council more input in how the final candidate is selected.

Council member Jamie Griffin put forth an idea similar to how the school board makes a selection for a vacancy, which is to have each candidate interviewed by the entire board and then they are ranked by a score made by each council member with the highest score total being the final selection.

Another part of the debate saw council wondering about whether or not the recent past election results should have any bearing. There was a council election this past November. A question that comes from this is should the candidate who was not elected but came in a close second get a chance at the vacancy.

Council member Wa Hubbard cautioned against using this method because she said a vacancy is different than an election campaign. She said filling a vacancy is kind of like filling a job opening, so there should probably be a different approach.

After Knight made her announcement, the city announced that applications were being accepted from anyone interested in filling the empty seat. Candidates must reside within the city limits. The mayor reviewed the applications and he then made a recommendation to the Council, who will then vote to approve or not.

As reference, a 3-3 tie of the council would be a no vote.

The selected candidate will serve out the seat’s remaining term, running for re-election in November 2022 if they wish to keep the seat.

According to current city council rules, the following eight step procedure is being used to fill the current vacancy on City Council:

When an elected position becomes vacant for any reason the position shall be filled within 60 days, unless the term expiration date is within 90 days of the day the office is vacated (City Charter Section 5.05). In this case the position will remain open until the election. If the vacancy occurs in the office of Mayor, the Mayor Pro-Tem will serve as Mayor until the Council appoints a replacement. The appointment to fill the position of Mayor or Council Member shall proceed as below:

1. Officially vacate the Council Member position, if required.

2. Provide adequate notification to the public regarding the open position through the city newsletter, a newspaper, the Internet, or any other means deemed appropriate.

3. The applicant will write a letter of intent or fill out an application in accordance with the advertised deadline, a copy of which will be provided to the Council in the Council packet.

4. At the next council meeting, the Mayor or Presiding Officer will announce all the applicants and provide copies of applications or letters of intent.

5. The Mayor or Presiding Officer makes a nomination from the applications received.

6. The nominee is then voted on.

7. If this nominee received four votes, he or she is then appointed and sworn into office.

8. In the event this nominee does not receive 4 votes, the process begins again at step 5.

At the May 12 meeting, Griffin took a step back from the process debate to say the council should follow its current rules as defined and make a selection within the 60 day window, which closes at the end of this month.

However, it was agreed overall that after the selection is made and the council is made whole again with seven members then they should take up the vacancy process debate again and possibly change it.

Keough said he would most likely bring back before the council his recommendation at the May 24 meeting.

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