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Fayetteville council to decide special election or appointment to fill vacant seat

by Stacy Ryburn | October 27, 2021 at 7:28 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK City of Fayetteville city hall Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in downtown Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The city could hold a special election Feb. 8 or appoint someone Tuesday to fill a vacant seat left by former Council Member Matthew Petty.

Petty, 37, served his final day representing Ward 2 on Monday. He sent a resignation letter to the city's administration Oct. 18, saying his professional demands as a developer were taking away from the time he could spend on council business.

Arkansas law says a city council must decide to hold a special election or appoint a new member during the first regular meeting of a vacancy. That meeting will happen Tuesday.

City Attorney Kit Williams said the council will have to take two votes. The first will be whether to call for a special election or to appoint someone. A motion will require a majority of the council members present. If all council members are in attendance, that would mean four out of seven votes. Mayor Lioneld Jordan could vote in the event of a tie if someone is absent.

The second vote would either be to set a date for a special election if the council selects that option, or to name someone to join the council, if it decides on appointment. It will take five affirmative votes to pass a motion on that vote, including the mayor, Williams said.

Williams said his office recommended Feb. 8 as the "safest" date after consulting the Washington County election director. A state law adopted this year says special elections can only be held the second Tuesday of February, May, August or November in a non-presidential election year. The law doesn't take effect until after the end of this year. However, holding a special election on Jan. 11 under current law likely wouldn't be feasible with all the deadlines associated with necessary paperwork, he said.

Council members asked questions during an agenda-setting session Tuesday, but none indicated a preference on which way to go.

Sarah Bunch asked whether the council could appoint someone until a special election is held Feb. 8. She pointed out the council has its budget session coming up next month.

Williams said there was no interim appointment option.

"It's either you appoint someone all the way to the end of Council Member Petty's current term, or you have a special election," he said.

The term ends Dec. 31, 2024.

Council Member D'Andre Jones asked how much a special election may cost. City Clerk Kara Paxton said it could cost somewhere around $15,000 to $20,000.

The City Clerk's Office can accept letters of interest and resumes from Ward 2 residents who want to fill the seat. If the council decides to appoint someone, it will hear from interested candidates at the meeting and will have the letters and resumes on-hand to read. If the council opts for a special election, the members will not hear from interested candidates. Either way, the council will hear from members of the public during both votes, Jordan said.

The council faced a similar situation in 2017 when former Ward 4 Council Member Alan Long resigned from his seat. At the time, there was one day between the vacancy and the next regular meeting. Council members opted to appoint someone, heard from interested candidates and ultimately selected Kyle Smith.

The city's Chamber of Commerce sent a letter Oct. 19 to the city administration urging the council to call for a special election, saying democracy works best when voters are given an opportunity to participate. The city can afford the cost of an election, it said.

"Appointing an individual to this position to serve for more than 24 months without that person having stood for election before the voters of Ward 2 deprives Ward 2 voters of participation and choice in choosing the person they want to represent their interest on our City Council," Chamber President Steve Clark said in the letter.

Ward 2 includes most of downtown, including Dickson Street and the downtown square. Other notable landmarks are Wilson Park, the Washington-Willow neighborhood, Woodland Junior High School and the University of Arkansas campus east of Garland Avenue.

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Next meeting

What: Fayetteville City Council

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Room 326, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.

To attend online, register at http://fayetteville-ar.gov.

Those interested in sending a letter of interest and resume to fill the Ward 2 seat can email cityclerk@fayetteville-ar.gov. Call 479-575-8323 or go to http://bit.ly/faycityclerk for more information.

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