Some residents attending last week's meeting weren't all too happy with the 2-2 vote that seemed to be set in stone after three rounds of balloting. When it appeared that the four council members had slipped into their pattern of alliances — Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer on one side and Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest on the other — several residents urged them to try harder, appoint an applicant who could be sworn in this week, and avoid an election in November.
A vacant council seat, said resident Valerie Gardner, would "inhibit the town's ability to move ahead" on issues the council needs to address between now and mid-December, when a new member would fill the seat should an election be held. She's right. There is no reason to believe that council members who couldn't agree on a candidate from among the impressive field of applicants before them will be able to effectively address the town's business during a time when important matters are at hand or on the horizon. High on the list is negotiating a new contract with the town's police officers — an issue that already has had a polarizing effect on residents.
That said, appointment of a new council member must be done with great care, putting politics aside in the public's interest. Any appointed member who chooses to run for election in November 2014 after serving out the term of Jerry Carlson, who resigned July 1, will have an incumbent's advantage at the ballot box. If an applicant shows signs of having a political bent that reflects that of either camp on the council, he or she should be disqualified.
Ms. Gardner, speaking to council members as they appeared to be heading for a stalemate, said the council should consider first and foremost the candidate's mindset, not politics. A collaborative spirit and the ability to hear and consider what others say are critical, and would help the council work through potentially divisive issues.
Of the seven candidates, surely there are some who meet those criteria and, as Ms. Gardner also noted, appointing one of them is the responsible thing to do. Other residents who added their two cents to the discussion agreed. We do too.
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