The resignation of Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino on April 6 has raised procedural questions, and other concerns, among the remaining council members on how to fill the vacant seat.
According to Chestertown’s charter, the town council has 45 days from April 6 to select a new mayor.
The charter requires that the Chestertown Board of Election Supervisors take over and hold a special election if the town council fails to fill the vacant seat by the 45-day deadline, which in this case is May 21.
But Ingersoll suggested a work-around at the April 19 meeting that could restart the 45-day deadline at each meeting.
He suggested members could rotate as acting mayor at the start of each meeting and remain mayor until the next meeting when a new acting mayor is selected, essentially creating two-week terms. He said the rotation could continue through the election without the need to appoint a permanent acting mayor.
“I don’t have a problem with the rotation of the present council from now till December,” he said. “You could do it meeting-to-meeting or month-to-month.”
He said there was nothing in the charter that prohibited rotating the acting mayor.
In a brief phone call with Ingersoll on Wednesday, he echoed his statement from the April 19 meeting that there was nothing in the town’s charter that prohibits his proposal to rotate acting mayors.
He said it would be a good opportunity for the existing council members to get an understanding of the job of mayor.
But this doesn’t address leaving a vacant seat on the council for the next seven months.
Ingersoll said he wasn’t concerned about tie votes with only four serving members. He said the council “ran like a Swiss watch” during periods when former Mayor Margo Bailey was absent due to illness.
Jim Peck, a research specialist with the Maryland Municipal League, questioned whether Ingersoll’s idea of resetting the 45-day clock by regularly swapping out mayors passes muster with the town’s charter.
Peck said in an interview with the Kent Pilot that the absence of a prohibition of Ingersoll’s plan doesn’t necessarily make it legal and that the letter of the charter is very specific in Section 8.
“In case of a vacancy in the office of Mayor for any reason, the council within 45 days, shall elect some qualified person to fill the vacancy until the next regular town election,” Section 8 says.
Peck said the word “shall” in Section 8 lays out a specific path required for the council to follow and that it would probably be best for the current elected officials to consult the town’s attorney for guidance.
Peck also said that leaving a vacant seat on the council for seven months should be vetted by the town attorney or the Board of Elections Supervisors.
The town’s option under the letter of the charter
According to the town charter, the town council can appoint a sitting member of the council or a registered voter of the town who has lived in the town limits for not less than two years from the prior election, is a U.S. citizen and is at least 25 years of age.
There’s no requirement to select a current member from within the council.
But should a sitting member be appointed, that sitting member’s seat must be filled by a registered voter of the town who is at least 21 years of age and has resided in the town for not less than one year from the previous election–and not less than 30 days from the previous election in the district of the vacant seat.
Ward 1 Councilman David Foster and Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver are up for re-election in November and they could run for their current seats while serving as a permanent acting mayor through the election. But either’s vacant seat would need to be filled by an interim council member, who could also file to run for the seat.
Tolliver indicated at the April 19 council meeting that he was interested in serving as permanent acting mayor through the election, and he was adamant that a permanent acting mayor come from within the council.
Foster said rotating mayors through January, when the new mayor and council would be sworn in, could “raise questions in the community about our continuity if it continues back and forth, so there are some problems with that…”
Calls to the town’s attorney, Stewart Barroll, were not returned by the time this story ran.
Feature Image Gavel (Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)