Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Christiansburg Town Council should ensure an open process for filling a seat expected to open in election shuffle.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Christiansburg Mayor Richard Ballengee isn’t seeking re-election in November. Yet he’s not quite ready to give up a seat at the table at town council meetings.
Councilman Mike Barber is running unopposed for mayor, meaning his council seat almost certainly will be vacant come Jan. 1. Appointing a replacement for the two years left on his term will be among a new town council’s first tasks — and Ballengee has let it be known he’d be willing to serve.
Reshuffling the seat assignments might appear a tad too cozy on a board that, until a few years ago, discouraged civic engagement and held decision-making as close as possible to its collective vest.
The board drew a sharp rebuke from this newspaper in 2006 under similar circumstances when, as fate would have it, Ballengee created a two-year vacancy on council when he ran for mayor and won. Council appointed his replacement in closed session, with no public involvement.
All of which helps to explain the skittishness of some council members last week over the process for filling the anticipated vacancy next year: Perhaps the council should appoint the fourth runner-up in this year’s five-way race for the three seats that will be on the November ballot. Or maybe council should ask the General Assembly to grant a change in the town charter to allow a special election rather than choose someone to finish out Barber’s term.
Picking an also-ran would hardly assure that council was honoring the will of voters, who made other choices. And Christiansburg certainly doesn’t need a change in its charter to have an open selection process.
The charter calls for council to appoint a replacement within 60 days. This is a practical process to fill vacancies without undue delay or the expense of special elections — after all, nothing can guarantee that others would not occur before the next regular election.
Voters have chosen a town council to make decisions that reasonably cannot be put to a vote of the entire electorate. The danger comes not in exercising that authority, but in shutting out the public from the decision-making process.
In 2006, council winnowed a half-dozen council-selected candidates to two, discussed them in closed session and chose, without hearing from the public in any formal way.
In its new mode of open engagement, it should advertise for candidates and publicly interview all of them. Members’ questions can make their own priorities clearer. And council is certain to get a broader perspective on what is important to the community it serves.
Ballengee could apply, if he is indeed interested, and might be the best choice for reasons that become plain. But council owes it to constituents to look at all the possibilities.
Weather JournalWarmth next 2 days hits icy wall