Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Trenton City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night. The purpose of the meeting was to present publicly the legal process for filling any vacant elected offices (council or mayor).

The meeting was relatively brief, under an hour. The information was presented, council was provided an opportunity to raise any questions (they had none) and then members of the audience were invited to ask questions.

Despite reports last week of errors in the way the city legal department described the process to council in advance of the meeting, the information provided tonight was correct.

In short:
  • If a vacancy occurs in a council position, the remainder of the governing body appoints a replacement by a majority vote. 
  • If a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor, the council president becomes the acting mayor until the body appoints a replacement.
  • In either case, if the vacancy occurs prior to September 1 of the final year of the term, a special election is scheduled for the next general or municipal election, whichever comes first.
  • If a vacancy occurs after September 1, the appointee completes the term; no special election is required.

There were some good questions raised by members of the public tonight.


Q: Who can be appointed? A: Anyone who is legally qualified to hold the seat. Not just a member of council or the administration.

Q. What constitutes a majority vote on an appointment? A. Four votes out of the seven possible (in the case of a tie in voting for a replacement council member, the mayor may vote).

A little trickier question was about whether there would be an open process of soliciting names and resumes of those interested in filling any future vacancies and just how that process might be handled.

The council president promised as open and transparent a process as the law allows and an open call for submissions from interested parties. The law director rightfully pointed out that criteria for evaluating the submissions would need to be agreed upon by the governing body and made known to the public.

All well and good. Moreover, the proceedings went better, largely, than one might have expected after reading of the earlier confusion over the actual process.

What was unsettling, though, were questions raised about whether or not members of city council had been approached about securing their votes for one particular individual or another to be appointed mayor in case of a vacancy.

The reason for the line of questioning was a obvious belief that some sort of back room deal had already been made on just who council would appoint to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor.

The political climate in Trenton has long fostered an abundance of conspiracy theories. One could suppose it is a natural by-product of politics.

However, if this is the tone the upcoming campaign is going to take than we have a big problem.

Trenton is in crisis. We need competent, steady leadership. We do not need another thin-skinned, suspicious, administration. We need to build coalitions and to include all segments of the population. We can no longer afford to discount or disparage others simply because they are rivals or challengers.

It is a given that candidates cannot absolutely control what their supporters say and do, but they can make an effort or distance themselves from those who won’t behave civilly.

There is no room for the accusatory challenges launched from the podium tonight. Nor is there cause for the commentary passed between various members of the audience. That kind of behavior is not going to save Trenton. It is only going to send us further along the road to dysfunction and divisiveness.

If you are going to campaign through innuendo and rumor, you are not going to win a lot of votes. And you are not going to help Trenton.

It would benefit us all if candidates and their supporters would keep their conspiracy theories to themselves unless and until they have very credible evidence to back up their assertions. Failing to do so will not only hurt their chances of obtaining the goal they seek, it will severely inhibit the city’s ability to move out of these troubled times and onto recovery.

Isn't the whole idea for us to be better, do better than our recent history indicates we are?

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