Sometime within the next month, the Morris City Council has an important and challenging decision to make - who will they appoint to fill Twig Webster's seat when he retires on July 31?
Based on the rules of the city charter, the appointed city council member will only officially serve until the general election on Nov. 6. Yet in those three months, the city council could be making some important decisions about the city budget, our tax levy and what to do about the old elementary school.
The city charter is clear on the timeline for how the appointment should be made, but it doesn't offer any criteria for the city council to use when they make their decision. How to fill the vacancy is up to our current elected officials.
Although the city council spent a considerable amount of time discussing the issue this week, they ultimately failed to provide any concrete critera they would use in making the appointment, other than telling interested parties to send a letter of intent to Mayor Sheldon Giese as soon as possible.
The problem with not being clear about how the appointment will be made is that interested parties have no idea what information to include in their application letter, and citizens have no idea what qualities are considered necessary for their city council members.
Serving on the city council is a job - a low paying, high criticism job, but a job nonetheless. It's difficult to ask someone to apply for an open job without offering criteria by which candidates will be judged or even a clear deadline when applications should be turned in.
A more concerning part of the city council's discussion was whether or not to appoint an interim city council member who is also planning to run for election in the fall.
On the one hand, choosing from among citizens who plan to run for office would help the city council know that applicants are truly interested in serving. And if the candidate the council appoints to serve in the interim happens to win the election for the seat, they'll be several months more experienced than they otherwise would be.
However, those benefits are far outweighed by the impact appointing a candidate could have on the election this November.
Whether the city council intends it to be or not, appointing a candidate in the upcoming election is an endorsement. That person becomes an incumbent, and can run on the fact that they were chosen by current members of the city council to serve.
In contrast, appointing someone who does not intend to run for election in the fall leaves the election truly in the hands of the voters of Morris.
Near the end of Tuesday's discussion, Mayor Giese told the rest of the council that if the appointment is left up to him, he will chose an interim city council member who is exactly that - interim. I think this is the right decision, and I hope the rest of the council will follow his lead when they make a decision about how to fill the vacant seat - whenever and however that decision happens to take place.