With the election of Council Member Paige Cherry as Portsmouth City Treasurer, a vacancy on city council will occur in relatively short order. No doubt, council is already engaged in backroom conversations about who will fill CM Cherry’s slot once he resigns to assume his new position. Under Virginia Code and the city charter, the mayor and remaining council members have the authority to appoint an interim replacement. Since CM Cherry took his seat in January of 2015, someone running in the 2018 local election will replace the appointee next fall.
In our view, the person selected for the interim period should be one of the candidates who ran for a city council seat as part of the “Class of 2014”. Aside from CM Cherry himself, current Council Members William Moody, Mark Whitaker, and Nathan Clark already hold seats. (Although CM Clark did not win his at the same time as the aforementioned colleagues, he did prevail in the 2016 election.) That leaves as potential appointees Mr. Gary Waters and Ms. Donna Biggs Sayegh. We believe that by virtue of the number of votes received, Mr. Waters should have the first right of refusal, then Ms. Sayegh. If neither of them is interested any longer in serving, the city council candidates who finished “out of the money” in 2016 should be solicited in order of votes received.
To the best of our knowledge, no council has ever taken this approach to filling a vacancy among their ranks. The city charter affords them complete discretion in the manner of making such a choice, which has meant that some “inside” favorite typically receives the appointment. As believers in “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, however, we at PCW think that our recommended methodology best embodies democratic principles. After all, the selection pool we propose consists of candidates who put themselves before the Portsmouth citizenry and met the ballot qualifications for the position. As long as they still qualify under the law, they should receive an offer of appointment. Whether the current council members like these candidates or not is irrelevant; it is the people’s choice that should hold sway. They began with at least one hundred twenty-five registered voters supporting their candidacy and ended with many times that number casting ballots for them.
In addition to our advice to council as a whole, we would offer two suggestions to Council Member and City Treasurer-Elect Cherry personally: resign your seat on council immediately and make arrangements with outgoing Treasurer Williams to spend the remaining time in his term working as his understudy. Although you successfully sold the Portsmouth electorate on the idea that you have relevant experience which will allow you to fulfill the responsibilities of treasurer successfully, it is not the same as having worked in the office itself. Take what advantage you can of the knowledge accumulated over the twenty-four years your predecessor has held the office. Watch how the office functions today before you are immersed in day-to-day operations and decision-making processes. Should you heed our counsel, we believe you will have a running start when you take the “hot seat” in January. Additionally, you will be helping whoever fills your position on council make an earlier entry into the job he/she must learn. Ultimately, taking this course of action could benefit the public whom you have sworn to serve.