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Process for filling vacancy, should Taylor win two seats, explained

March 24, 2014

Franklin — After numerous inquiries from readers about the fate of the aldermanic seat for District 4 if Common Council President Steve Taylor is elected mayor, NOW spoke with public officials on how the election process works.

Taylor, the current alderman for District 4, is both running for mayor and seeking re-election as an alderman in the April 1 election.

If Taylor is elected for both positions, he must resign from one of them — presumably, as an alderman.

"It's a typical scenario for an alderman to run for mayor," said Reid Magney, public information officer of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. "Mayors often come from serving as an alderman first ... but you can't hold both offices. The alderman would have to resign his or her aldermanic seat. So the question is, how do you fill the vacancy on the council?"

Under Wisconsin statute, vacancies in the office of mayor and alderman in second-, third-, and fourth-class cities — Franklin is classified as a third-class city — are to be filled by appointment by the common council or by special election.

"If the Common Council appoints someone, they would have to decide whether the (appointee) would serve the remainder of the vacancy's term or serve until someone else is elected by special election," City Clerk Sandra Wesolowski said.

A special election, in this case, would "be held in conjunction with the next April election," Wesolowski said.

In other words, the council could appoint an individual to fill the vacated aldermanic seat for one year prior to the 2015 spring election or could allow the appointee to serve a full three-year term.

Regardless of how the position is filled — whether by appointment or the 2015 election — the term for the seat would still expire in April of 2017.

There is no state statute for how a common council should make an appointment.

"Although the statutes provide that vacancies on common councils and village boards can be filled by the governing bodies of the city or village, the statutes do not set forth a procedure by which the appointments must be made," the League of Wisconsin Municipalities states on its website. "Since no method of appointment is prescribed by statute, municipal governing bodies may determine their own procedure for nominating candidates and selecting a person to fill the vacancy."

Should Taylor be elected mayor, the Common Council would then be able to appoint someone for the District 4 seat whenever the governing body felt it appropriate, Wesolowski said.

In past situations, the city has accepted and considered letters of interest from individuals who wish to fill a vacancy on the council, she said, but "the council will also have to set the process for filling the vacancy" this time around.

The council would then vote on the appointment.

"The statutes are silent in respect to the number of votes necessary to fill a vacancy on the common council," the LWM site states. "The common law rule in Wisconsin is that in the absence of a statute, ordinance or rule requiring the vote of a majority ... of a governing board, a majority of a quorum is sufficient to elect."

A quorum is the least number of aldermen needed for a common council meeting to be valid.

Franklin School Board President Janet Evans, who is running against Taylor for the District 4 seat, would not be "automatically appointed" to the position just because the seat was empty, Wesolowski said. On the other hand, Evans would also not be "automatically disqualified" from being appointed if she were to lose the election.

Officials elected on April 1 will be sworn in April 15, when their terms officially begin.

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