Durham City Council members will meet next week to discuss criteria for applicants looking to fill Steve Schewel’s seat now that he has been sworn in as mayor.
The council on Thursday gave the city clerk the go-ahead to advertise the vacancy and put out an initial, basic application that will be due December 19. In the meantime, members who sit on the Council Procedure Committee—Schewel, Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and new member Vernetta Alston—will meet next Wednesday at three to go over a questionnaire that will go out to eligible applicants.
So far, at least five people have announced plans to apply to fill out the rest of Schewel’s unexpired council term. The application will be available online. Candidates must be at least twenty-one years old, live in city limits, be registered to vote in Durham County, and be current on their city and county taxes to be considered.
A tentative timeline indicates that the council will aim to interview a narrowed field candidates on January 11. The interviews must be done in a public meeting. If the council doesn’t appoint someone within sixty days (February 2), a special meeting will be held to fill the seat. That gives the council time to hear input from the public after interviews are conducted and potentially make a decision at their January 16 meeting, the last regular meeting before the sixty-day deadline.
The council is expected to adopt a final timeline and questionnaire at its December 18 meeting.
“This is a huge decision, and we are approaching it with great sobriety and the respect it deserves,” said new Ward 2 council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. “There’s a quarter of a million people and only seven of us that occupy these chairs. … We understand that filling these seats is a sacred obligation.”
The last time a council vacancy was filled was in 2013, when Don Moffitt was selected to finish out Mike Woodard’s unexpired term after he was elected to the state Senate. The three-page application asked candidates why they want to serve, what they would bring to the table, and their ideas on addressing affordable housing, crime, transit, development, jobs, and diversity. They were also asked what books, newspapers, and blogs they’ve read recently and what sources of information they would rely on to make decisions if appointed.
Moffitt, who exited the council Monday, suggested that the new council leave it up to the public to fill the seat through an election. Council members Thursday favored going ahead with the application process.
“I think democracy is fantastic, and if this body can’t come to an agreement, it will go to the voters in a special election, but my reading of the charter indicates that the city council must attempt to fill the vacancy,” said council member Charlie Reece.
According to council procedures, the member being replaced can’t participate in the process “once their resignation is accepted by the City Council.” But technically, Schewel isn’t resigning, just moving into a different seat, so he will get to take part.