Lucas seat stays empty for now
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Officials and residents spent the early part of the Monday, June 6, board meeting praising the work of exiting Commissioner Ken Lucas, but much of that goodwill seemed to be gone when discussions turned to filling his vacated seat.
Lucas last month said he would resign because he has plans to leave the area to find work. He left his position with Bank of America earlier this year. Since then, commissioners have discussed several names behind the scenes as a possible fill-in, but no one will get a chance to serve in Lucas’ stead for now. Commissioners have deferred any nominations or votes to fill the seat until their Aug. 1 meeting, and one commissioner said he expects the board to defer the appointment again at that meeting. The board did not discuss anyone as a possible replacement.
The vote came after about 30 minutes of a back-and-forth discussion of the actual legality surrounding Lucas’ motion to resign. In his motion, Lucas said he would resign at the June 6 meeting when a replacement was named. Several commissioners and Town Attorney Bob Blythe saw it differently.
At issue was the conversation that took place at the May 16 meeting after Lucas made that motion. At that meeting, commissioners tried to discern if a replacement wasn’t named at Monday’s meeting would the resignation be voided. After some discussion, Blythe said the two weren’t tied together, and the board’s original vote accepted the resignation at face value.
Lucas and Commissioner Charlie Jeter said the resignation and replacement were forever connected.
“If you start saying we can change motions after the fact, we are starting a dangerous precedent,” Jeter said. Delaying a decision to fill the vacancy denies Lucas’ rights and ignored a number of qualified candidates, he added.
“This is the hardest you’ve ever seen a board work to not do something,” Jeter told the packed gallery. “If we disagree, then let’s have a real discussion of the candidates and disagree, and if no one gets appointed, then that’s democracy. … This is just stripping Mr. Lucas of his town charter-given right to vote on his replacement.”
Lucas said the motion should stand as given.
“Motions are motions,” he said. “Accepting my resignation is contingent upon refilling my seat. That’s the motion that we passed …”
Other commissioners said discussions happen all the time to clarify motions before votes are taken and this was no different.
Officials are hesitant to refill Lucas’ seat for a number of reasons, including:
• Giving the replacement exposure and face time with voters if they chose to run for election in November.
• Wasting staff members’ time getting the replacement up to speed on a number of issues for a five-month term of office.
Commissioners originally wanted to vote to leave the seat empty until the November elections, but Blythe said they couldn’t legally “vote for nobody.” Commissioner Sarah McAulay asked to defer to nomination until August.
Jeter said he foresees the board deferring the nomination again at that meeting and again until the election.
Several residents spoke to the board before the meeting and were split on the issue.
Planning board members Sam Mount and Joe Sailers wanted the seat filled.
“That seat belongs to the Town of Huntersville,” Mount said. “It belongs to the people.”
Fewer commissioners meant fewer residents would get their needs heard, Sailers said.
Huntersville resident Ken Holtje said the voters should decide. “I recommend that it be refilled by a well understood election process in November,” he said. “… We have complete faith in this board to handle town business.”
Commissioners decided to delay the decision on at 3-2 vote, with commissioners Ron Julian, Danae Caulfield and McAulay providing the majority needed.
Lucas says goodbye
In his closing comments, Lucas, a two-term Republican, said goodbye to the board and staff members as tears welled in his eyes.
“I’ve been honored to be elected to this board,” he said. “Serving this town has been an honor to me.”
Board members thanked Lucas at the opening of the meeting.
“You are part of the history of the town …” McAulay said. “I thank you for your service to the citizens of Huntersville and wish you success and personal enjoyment as you pursue your career.”
Lucas, a securities expert and former U.S. Marine, said he plans to leave for Texas to start a new job soon.
“It will be sad to see you go,” Mayor Jill Swain said. “You have added your own flavor to the board.”
Swain presented Lucas with a plaque for his service.
With his final statements, Lucas carried out a Marine tradition by leaving a book behind whenever you leave a post. Lucas left behind Rudy Guiliani’s book “Leadership.”
“To town staff,” he said, presenting Town Manager Greg Ferguson with the book, “I just leave it with ‘always lead.’ Semper Fi.”