AUGUSTA — City councilors are split on when to hold an election to fill an at-large council seat vacant now and an at-large school board seat that will be vacant in January.

Some councilors want to wait until the June referendum on the school budget to fill both vacancies, in part to save the cost of holding an additional special election. Others say filling the vacancies sooner than that is what the city charter calls for and worth the cost of a special election.

There is a vacancy on the city council now because of the election of former At-Large Councilor David Rollins as mayor, and one on the school board coming in January because of the election of At-Large Member Kimberly Martin to school board chairwoman. Martin’s at-large seat will become vacant when she takes the oath of office as chairwoman Jan. 8.

Ward 4 Councilor Mark O’Brien noted the city charter says when a vacancy on the council will be greater than six months long, councilors should schedule an election to fill the spot as soon as practical.

“In the case of Mayor Rollins’ resignation (from his at-large council seat) if you’re talking about having an election in June, you’re having a vacant at-large seat for eight months,” O’Brien said. “I dare anyone to tell me it’s not practical to have a special election within eight months. It seems we could have an election in mid-March.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said a typical citywide special election costs between $7,000 and $10,000.

Bridgeo said City Clerk Barbara Wardwell told him the earliest the city could hold the election, due to filing deadline and other requirements, would be Feb. 20.

At-Large Councilor Cecil Munson said holding an election in February, when one of the seats to be filled won’t even be vacant until January, wouldn’t leave candidates much time to gather the 100 signatures they’d need on their nomination papers, and get their message out to voters, especially through winter’s snow and ice.

“I don’t think it’s February, I think it’s way out further than that,” Munson said. “I’m thinking why not roll it in with the June vote on the school budget? We’ve functioned with seven people on the council before. Why can’t we save the money and have the vote in June?”

Munson added that all of the council seats representing each of the four geographic wards of the city are filled, so there are no sections of the city going unrepresented, and there are three at-large council seats filled as well, in addition to the one vacant at-large seat.

At-Large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said he prefers June because he does not see a need for a “rush job to get there.”

Fellow At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick said $7,000 to $10,000 for a special election is a relatively small price to pay considering what is at stake.

“I hope it doesn’t come down to cost, because, at what cost democracy?” she said at a council discussion of the issue Thursday. “It’s what our country is all about. That has immeasurable worth.”

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said he doesn’t have a position on the issue yet and needs more information to decide. But he expressed concern the council hasn’t been complete for some time due to various vacancies.

Rollins was elected in November, and immediately sworn in as mayor, to fill a vacancy in the mayor’s seat created when former Mayor William Stokes was appointed as a state superior court justice in June.

After Stokes resigned in June, and before Rollins was elected in November, O’Brien served as interim mayor, which temporarily left his Ward 4 seat vacant while he served as interim mayor.

Councilors left the issue unresolved Thursday, with Rollins noting the school board seat not coming vacant until January gives them time.

“I think in time we’ll come together,” Rollins said. “I think we have time to talk to each other about this.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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