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Blitch's resignation effective immediately

Council's decision opens door for special election in November

Blitch's resignation effective immediately

Blitch's resignation effective immediately

Tommy Blitch

Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction, which will appear in Friday's print edition: Statesboro City Council will hold a special called meeting at 8 a.m. Friday in City Hall. An article on the front page Thursday listed the wrong time.

    Despite an earlier announcement by Mayor Joe Brannen to the contrary, residents of Statesboro’s District 1 will likely not have to wait six-plus months to fill a council seat vacated by the resigning Tommy Blitch.
    Not if Councilman Travis Chance can help it.
    Wednesday, just one day after Brannen announced the three-term councilman would officially relinquish his seat Sept. 30, resulting in a March election to find a replacement, Chance and other members of council voted to make the resignation effective immediately, allowing the possibility for a vote this November.
    The immediate resignation makes possible a special called meeting — scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday in City Hall — in which city officials can call for a special election, with plenty of time before the required 29 days prior to the next scheduled election, Nov. 6.
    Had Blitch retained the seat through September, it might have been too close to squeeze in the 29 days, forcing the special election to be delayed the third Tuesday in March.
    “I was able to talk to Mrs. Becky (Blitch) and explain to her the situation. She said she and Mr. Tommy Blitch are completely OK with (an immediate resignation) and understand that doing so would allow us to fill the seat, and not have it vacant for another six to eight months,” said Chance, who contacted the Blitch family following Wednesday’s scheduled council meeting. “As of right now, Mr. Tommy Blitch, along with family, has chosen to take another step in his life. He has chosen to resign, and while we regret that, we should honor that.”
    Blitch, 80, originally announced his intention to step down from office during an Aug. 21 meeting, citing diminishing health and impaired faculties.
    In a letter read by Brannen during that meeting, Blitch expressed heartfelt appreciation for peers and constituents.
    “It has truly been my honor to serve you as an elected councilman. I am sorry that I will not be able to fulfill my current term due to health concerns,” he wrote. “It has been a pleasure to represent Statesboro for almost 12 years. This is a tough decision and I hate to do it, but at the same time, I feel like stepping down is the best thing for the city and myself.”
    Blitch’s official resignation date became a subject of confusion in weeks leading up to Wednesday and a point of contention during the morning meeting.
    While some city personnel interpreted the letter as notice of an immediate resignation, others believed the councilman would continue attending meetings until his health absolutely prohibited it.
    In conversations with Blitch, Brannen believed the District 1 representative would continue serving through September.
    Statements by the mayor expressing that thought prompted Chance, who believed the resignation was official, and is adamant about giving residents a chance to choose a new councilman before the year’s end, to speak up during Wednesday’s meeting.
    “This community deserves all five districts to be represented and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why we should keep them from having that,” Chance said.
    The councilman requested a copy of the resignation letter read by Brannen in the August meeting, and found that the document was, in fact, dated Aug. 21 — though the words “effective immediately” had been scratched out of the text, either by Blitch or someone else.
    Ultimately, with no documents to support the idea of Blitch continuing in office for another month, each of the four attending councilmen voted to accept the resignation effective Wednesday.
    “I agree with (Chance). We know Mr. Blitch is sick and we need to carry him out with style; go ahead and let him retire and move on,” said Councilman Gary Lewis. “That is the bottom line.”
    Chance made contact with the Blitch family Wednesday to ensure the councilman did not intend to return.
    “It is my understanding that (Blitch) is not opposed to being done with council as soon as possible,” Chance said. “Any further dragging out of this whole timeframe would be due to other individuals, administration or elected officials. And that would be deplorable.”
    City Council addressed Bulloch County Elections Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones during the morning meeting to ask whether a November election to choose a new councilman is feasible.
    “A special election has to be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice,” Jones said. “I did call the DOJ the other day to see if we could put everything together in time, if City Council chose to go forward, and the representative said ‘yes.’ ”
    Council is expected to call for the special election Friday.
    Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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