Candidates to fill the District 5 Statesboro City Council vacancy will need to qualify March 26-28 after the four remaining council members unanimously voted to call the special election for May 22.
The resignation last week of Travis Chance, who had been District 5 council member for 10 years, created the vacancy. Chance is now running for a Bulloch County Board of Commissioners seat. During Tuesday morning's council-called special meeting, Mayor Jonathan McCollar spoke in opposition to holding the special city election May 22, the date of the county and state primary. He instead favored holding the Statesboro District 5 special election Nov. 6, with the statewide general election.
"I'm concerned about the May 22 date because it cuts the democratic process so short," McCollar told council members. "You know we've had cases at the local, state, federal level, the Supreme Court, that outline timelines that are associated with running for office. I'm understanding that there should be representation for District 5; I have no doubt about that. I think we will be doing a disservice to District 5 by trying to hurry up and do it in May."
People should be allowed time enough to know who will be representing them, he said, and noted that with the May 22 election date, early voting will begin April 30. Meanwhile, potential candidates will have only until the last week of March to decide.
"So we've got a very short time period, and the only candidates that's really available to run right now are turnkey candidates, candidates that can go in, pay the qualifying fee, go get the signs," McCollar said.
Getting signs made will take a week to 10 days, and some candidates may first need to raise money to pay the fee and begin buying campaign materials, he said.
Although McCollar agreed that November "may be a little too long to ask District 5 to have to wait for representation," he said it would be preferable to May 22 if those were the only choices. A Georgia law provides for holding a special election at the time of a general election or primary, but makes no mention of having one on a runoff date. The only Georgia election date between May 22 and Nov. 6 is the potential July 24 primary runoff.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said he would accept the responsibility and "fault" for calling Tuesday's special meeting.
Under the city charter, either the mayor or two or more council members can call a special meeting, and Boyum and District 4 Councilman John Riggs were the first to call for Tuesday's meeting, which would not have been necessary if the council were calling a special election for November.
Boyum said he had "every faith" that the remaining four council members and mayor could do the right thing over the next nine months but that the city charter calls for a five-member council.
"The charter is pretty clear. It says this is a five-person council," Boyum said. "That being said, if you look at the state law, it is very clear that we can call a special election with 30 days or more. We're at 70-ish days right now, and if the state thought that 70 days was too soon, then it wouldn't be in the state law and we wouldn't be charged to do it."
Riggs had said he had heard from two District 5 residents interested in being candidates for the office. One couldn't qualify because he had not lived in the district long enough, but the other person Riggs considered highly qualified, he said.
"But that's not why I went for the early election," Riggs said after the meeting. "The reason I voted for it is because I got call after call after call from citizens of District 5 who said, 'We would rather have the election in May rather than in November,' and so I said that's good enough for me."
Before the vote, District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones cited a similar reason.
"Giving other folks opportunity is also good, but as a representative of the city of Statesboro I like to go with what most of the citizens want, and what I'm hearing from the folks in District 5 (is they) would like to have a representative now," Jones said.
District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn asked questions about the qualifying fee and number of residents in District 5.
During the meeting, the mayor and council also heard briefly from two residents of District 5, Ray Hendley, who favored the May 22 election date, and Ivory Watts, who urged waiting until Nov. 6.
The special election is for the remainder of Chance's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2019. The winner or other candidates would have to seek a full four-year term in the November 2019 city election.
The qualifying fee is $227. Qualifying will open at 8 a.m. Monday, March 26, and end at noon Wednesday, March 28, in the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.