Apex weighs options to find new mayor

aramos@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

— To fill the vacant mayoral seat, the Apex Town Council will likely look outside its own ranks.

Most council members would prefer to find an Apex resident with strong community ties to fill the seat until the next election in 2015, said Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze.

The alternative would be for the five-member council to appoint one of its own to serve as mayor.

The Town Council is expected to vote Tuesday on howto fill the seat, which was left vacant when longtime Mayor Keith Weatherly resigned late last month.

Weatherly left his post to take a job as deputy secretary of legislative affairs for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Schulze, a four-term incumbent and one of the most senior members on the council, wants a shot at the mayoral seat.

“Personally, I’d like to appoint someone from the council, and I’d prefer it to be me,” Schulze said.

But some other council members want to take a different approach. “There are three who want to look on the outside,” he added.

Even if he isn’t appointed to fill the seat, Schulze said he is considering a run for mayor during the next election.

“It’s a different role,” Schulze said. “It’s a role I’m ready for. There’s more to town council than just votes. It’s about leadership and vision. It’s about being the face of Apex.”

Councilman Bill Jensen, who has served since 1999, said he wants the council to appoint an outsider. Whoever fills the spot must live in Apex and be a registered voter.

“If we appoint somebody from the council, we have to fill a council seat,” Jensen said. “It’s a two-stage process. Second, if we put somebody in there who wants to run in the next two years, in effect we are picking the mayor for next (term). An incumbent always has a better chance.”

If the council chooses to look outside its ranks, it’s important to select someone who has leadership experience and some business expertise, Jensen said.

The ideal candidate might be a prior mayor, council member or someone who has experience serving on town boards, he said.

Jensen said the appointee should have business connections outside of Apex and should be able to help boost economic development.

“The person should be willing or express a commitment from themselves to not run in two years,” Jensen said.

‘It’s our responsibility’

If the council promotes someone from within, a board vacancy could change the dynamics on the council.

While Schulze and Jensen have served on the council for years, the other three council members have served for one term or less.

The appointment of a new mayor could also result in a political shift on the board. There has been a Republican majority on the council for about a decade. But the council is now made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated member.

Councilwoman Nicole Dozier, who was elected in the fall, said she wants to look outside the council.

“I don’t want to make a decision between the two most senior (council members),” Dozier said. “I like it the way it is.”

Councilman Scott Lassiter said it’s uncomfortable to appoint a mayor who was not elected. He asked the town attorney if it was possible to hold a special election.

It’s not. The town’s charter requires the council to select a new mayor when there is a vacancy.

“It is our responsibility, whether we want it or not,” Lassiter said. “To me what’s so important is the mayor is a representative for the people, the council and for the town. It is a big responsibility.”

Lassiter said he is in favor of appointing Schulze to fill the role.

“When I first (heard) of it, my first thought was we have a natural line of promotion on the council,” Lassiter said. “In the absence of the mayor, the mayor pro tem comes in.”

A precedent

The last time the council had a mayoral vacancy was in the early 1970s, said Town Manager Bruce Radford.

Mayor E.B. Tyndall died while in office. Then-Commissioner. E.O. Seagroves was selected to serve the remainder of Tyndall’s term.

The commission then named a replacement commissioner to replace Seagroves, Radford said.

“Whatever is going to happen, I feel confident all of us are united in that we will choose someone who is a bridge-building person,” Lassiter said.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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