ROWLAND — Rowland commissioners are expected to decide next week not to hold a special election to replace former Mayor James Hampton, but the town attorney said Tuesday he is going to ask that they obey their town charter which he says requires the vote.
“I am sending board members a letter urging them to support the oath of office they took, and ask them to support and maintain the laws of North Carolina,” Rob Price said. “The board needs to either obey the town’s charter and hold the special election, or have the charter changed.”
Hampton resigned March 24, having served 14 months of his two-year term. According to the town’s charter, the town “shall” have a special election to fill the unexpired term.
Town leaders have indicated they are reluctant to hold a special election so close to the General Election in November. Candidate filing for the November election begins on July 7.
Town Clerk David Townsend said the commissioners are “leaning” toward foregoing a special election that would be costly to the town, require any interested mayoral candidates to file twice and run in elections only a few weeks apart, and that could potentially confuse voters.
The special election could cost the town about $5,000. If the mayor’s race is held in November it would probably cost about $1,500.
“The election couldn’t be held until late September or October so you would only have a mayor for a couple of months,” said Townsend. “A special election would be very expensive for a minimum reward.”
The town may have to revise its charter, which was adopted in the late 1990s, but that would require approval by the state General Assembly, Townsend said.
“We may need to get our charter in line with current municipal law,” he said. “But that will require some time.”
Townsend has met with G.L. Pridgen, director of the Robeson County Board of Elections, and Pridgen said Tuesday it is up to the town whether or not a special election is held.
“It’s up to them. If they want the special election we would do it,” Pridgen said. “But for us and the state, this is not our decision.”
Pridgen said that a couple of years ago state officials passed legislation discouraging special elections and encouraging any issues requiring special elections to be held during the November general election.
“Special elections were being called at all different times. Anyone wanting a bond referendum to pass would have a special election at a time when they knew voter turnout would be low. Not many voters turn out and vote in special elections,” Pridgen said.
Price said he has consulted with Robert Joyce, an elections expert with the University of North Carolina’s School of Government at Chapel Hill. Joyce said the special elections process could begin immediately, Price said.
“The filing period for candidates could begin now, the election held on July 7, and the new mayor installed at the July commissioners meeting on July 11,” Price said. “The mayor would then serve until December, when the mayor elected in November takes office.”
Price said there is no penalty levied on the commissioners if they choose to disregard the town’s charter.
“There is really little incentive to make them do the right thing,” Price said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.