After a vote to keep the vacant seat open, Montague City Council may have no choice but to fill the seat, according to Muskegon County officials.
Last month, the Montague City Council voted to keep Mark Freeland’s seat open until the November 2013 election. But according to the charter, it states that the city council “shall” fill a seat when it becomes vacant, but there is no timeline given.
Montague Mayor Kevin Erb said previously that the city council chose not to fill the vacant seat because all six applicants were highly qualified, making their decision tough, and also because that person would only serve on the council for less than a year.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this hard choosing someone,” Erb said.
The six applicants were Travis Auger Sr., Laurence McMullen, Bruce Froelich, Steven Mayberry, Claude Babcock and Richard Stengenga.
At their council meeting on Nov. 19, Erb recommended that the seat be left vacant, and a motion made by Jeff Auch and supported by Tom Lohman passed unanimously.
John French, city manager, explained that because the city council voted and passed a motion stating that they would keep the seat open, the charter was technically violated. There is no timeline, so the council could have kept the seat open, but because they officially voted to keep it open, they were wrong.
“We voted not to do it and I think it was an error,” Councilman Randy Lydens stated.
The city council met for a work session after their meeting on Monday, Dec. 17 to discuss what to do regarding the vacant seat.
Nancy Waters, Muskegon County Clerk, heard about the vacancy and asked the county’s legal council, Ted Williams, what his opinion was on the matter. Williams came back and stated that because the Montague City Council voted to keep the seat vacant, they were violating their charter.
Erb stated that he didn’t think the county would sue the city, but it was a possibility.
The city then contacted their lawyer, John Schrier, to get his opinion on the issue.
Hap Cederquist discussed the possibility of interviewing each of the candidates, since that hasn’t been done. The group discussed the idea and while each agreed it would be good to get to speak to the candidates, the way it would be done became an issue.
The “interviews” would have to be done in a public meeting, which anyone is allowed to go to. That means the other candidates could sit in on the interviews and hear the questions and answers.
Bruce Froelich, one of the candidates, told the council what he would recommend. He worked for a company that had to do the same thing, but they asked each candidate to sit out of the other interviews so they wouldn’t have an unfair advantage. Froelich suggested the council ask each candidate to respectfully sit out of the other interviews.
When asked if anyone had heard complaints regarding not filling the seat, Lisa Kiel, council member, stated that she has had five different people come up to her and express their disappointment over leaving the seat vacant.
Margot Haynes, who was an audience member during the work session, stated that this issue is about more than just legality.
“Because this has been in the Beacon and people know about it, your reputation is on the line,” Haynes said.
The city council decided that they would not make a decision on who to pick, if anyone, until they hear back from Schrier, who is supposed to have a response by the Jan. 7 council meeting.