You can call them the Bill Strom dozen—there's even a Baker among them. Twelve people have applied to fill the vacancy left by the ex-councilman, who is moving to Manhattan with more than two years remaining in his term.
Among them are familiar faces, or at least familiar names from campaign signs: Jon DeHart, Gene Pease, Matt Pohlman, Will Raymond and Penny Rich, the five nonincumbents vying for office in this year's election who applied as they had promised. Seven more join the mix, some with council experience, like Joe Capowski and Lee Pavao, and others who've run before, such as Jason Baker and Aaron Shah (who filed and withdrew in 2005). Donna Bell, Joshua Ravitch and H. Brock Page complete the slate.
The decision now rests with the council, which must appoint someone to the post because Strom's announcement came days after the deadline to list another seat on the November election ballot. (Some political observers theorize that Strom did so intentionally to allow his colleagues to handpick his successor, while others are quick to dismiss that idea as conspiracy-mongering.)
Regardless, the seat is open, and the council has to determine how to whittle the applicant pool. That question drew heated debate Monday at the first Town Council meeting since the application deadline closed. If Mayor Kevin Foy gets his way, the candidates will all be vetted as residents by the town clerk by Oct. 28. On Nov. 9, each applicant would appeal to council members at a special meeting where the members would vote. An applicant would need five votes to be seated.
But that's not how Michael Weil, a 13-year Chapel Hill resident, wants it to play out.
"We are requesting that the current open seat be filled by the person who gets the next-most votes to the top four candidates in the upcoming November election and who has also filed the application for the seat," Weil said. He presented council with a petition of 75 signatures with a red "We want a vote 5" flyer. A group of Weil supporters lined the back row.
Councilman Matt Czajkowski repeated his desire to have the slot filled by the next council, which won't be seated until January, because they are the ones who will work with the new member.
"This is an imperfect, situation, and, as such, there is no perfect solution," Czajkowski said, shortly before resident Mohan Chilukiri interrupted him, shouting "It was a rigged process, can I speak?"
"No," Foy replied.
Foy said he agreed to delay the appointment until after the election so the results could be considered, but that he won't postpone the decision beyond early November. Nor will he bind himself to appointing the fifth-place finisher.
"I can't understand that line of argument," Foy said. "As a citizen, I get four votes, I don't get five votes."
That's true, but Weil and his supporters say a fifth-place finisher at least can prove he or she has some level of public appeal and can remove any stigma attached to the seat.
"The mayor is pretty much set in how he'd like to see the selection take place," Weil said. "Hopefully he and the council will decide to appoint the best person."
Download the applications (all PDFs):