City of Riceboro Councilmembers, Mayor Pro-Tempore and residents learned they couldn’t hold a special election to fill the mayor seat at their regular meeting on Nov. 2.
City attorney John Pirkle explained that the City had to abide by the rules set forth by the state under their charter. Pirkle said their charter allows the Council to appoint a new mayor but the state didn’t give the City the authorization to hold special elections for the vacant position.
The mayor’s seat has been vacant since former Mayor, Joseph Harris, passed away on Sept. 21, due to complications from COVID.
To complicate things a bit further, Pirkle, who had missed several meetings while recovering from triple bypass surgery, said prior to surgery he began researching the matter and realized the City does not have a procedure in place on how to appoint a new mayor.
Councilman David Miller asked for clarification since the City charter has a section titled special elections. But Pirkle pointed out the language in that section said the Council can appoint a new mayor. He said any language about special elections were omitted since the state didn’t give the City authority to do so.
Pirkle said the City does have the option of amending the charter, but that would have to be presented to the state legislators and the entire process could take years. Pirkle gave the Councilmembers a copy of the state model for appointing a new mayor for their review saying it was a good example for what they should be considering.
The City attorney suggested the matter be tabled to give the Council time to create a committee to write the procedure they plan to implement in appointing a new mayor. Once the procedure is in place, he suggested the Council advertise the position to solicit qualified applicants and follow their newly written plan to make their final selection and appointment.
Pirkle also suggested the Council consider raising the pay of Mayor Pro-Tem Pearlie Axson since she is doing the job of mayor and councilmember. Pirkle clarified that Axson still serves as Council and is eligible to vote on motions. When asked by Councilwoman Louise Brown on what they should do in case of a tie vote, Pirkle said Council needed to implement something, like a coin-toss, for their final decision.
“You are going to need to figure that out,” he said. After listening to the City attorney Council did vote to table the matter as they proceed with creating a committee to write the new procedure.
Learning the City could not hold a special election was a disappointment for some of the public who, earlier in the meeting, had expressed their voices be heard and an election be held as soon as possible. During public participation a woman asked for a moment of silence to honor Harris. Meanwhile former Councilman Modibo Kadalie said he was pleased to see that public input was being heard again noting there were problems and tensions under the former mayor. He asked Council to make sure the next mayor understands the charter and the hierarchy of administrative powers. Charlie Williams said the areas of Briar Bay and Shell Road needed to be better represented as they are part of the City.
Emmanuel Joyner said the bickering between City officials needed to stop. He said the Council should focus on the needs of the community and said Riceboro was a food dessert in need of grocery stores and an Urgent Care Facility.
In other business: Council approved a rate increase for City waste services, approved to place a manufactured home on a lot on Sandy Run Road and the rezoning of another parcel on Sandy Run.