Of all the elected positions that will be up for grabs in Alamance County this fall, there’s one seat in Gibsonville that has proven particularly vexing for local election officials.
Until mid-morning on Wednesday, staff members in the county’s elections office had assumed that they would have just four posts to put before Gibsonville’s voters in this year’s general election. As far as they knew, the town’s residents would be filling the mayor’s seat when they went to the polls, along with three other slots on the town’s board of aldermen – all of which would be available for terms of four years apiece.
The staff’s expectations were nevertheless thrown into confusion when a reporter from The Alamance News popped in to inquire about the unexpired term of Gibsonville’s late alderman Paul Thompson, who had passed away in August of 2022.
The news of Thompson’s death had apparently never reached the county’s elections director Dawn Hurdle or any of her associates. A quick phone call to Gibsonville’s town manager was enough to bring everyone up to speed on Thompson’s demise as well as the subsequent appointment of Paul Dean to his seat on the town’s governing board. But the timing of Thompson’s death also raised another conundrum about his seat, which wasn’t scheduled to come up for a vote until 2025.
For most municipalities in North Carolina, a vacancy on a city council or a board of aldermen can only be filled by appointment until voters can select a new office holder in the next regularly-scheduled municipal election. This rule poses no problem when a vacancy emerges in the second half of a four-year position; the local elections office can simply put the seat on the ballot as scheduled, while a successor is tapped to keep the seat warm until it comes up for a vote.
Things get more convoluted, however, when a seat opens up in the first half of a four-year term of office. In that case, a regularly-scheduled election will generally crop up two years into the term. An appointed successor will, therefore, serve only up to that point. In the meantime, local elections officials will have to add a new race to the forthcoming election to fill the final two years of the unexpired term.
Before Hurdle and her colleagues could move forward with this special race, they first had to make sure that Gibsonville’s municipal charter didn’t specify some other way of filling a vacant position. With that formality out of the way, they contacted their counterparts in Guilford County, which is also home to a significant chunk of Gibsonville’s voters. As it turned out, Gibsonville’s elections office was just as oblivious to Thompson’s death as well as the subsequent reallocation of his seat to Paul Dean.
“We had not been notified and neither was Guilford,” Hurdle later informed The Alamance News. “We were both unaware of Paul Thompson’s passing.”
The handling of Thompson’s old post comes in sharp contrast to Gibsonville’s publicity of another, more recent vacancy, which emerged when former alderman Yvonne Maizland-Sturdevant stepped down ahead of a recent move to Virginia. The board’s remaining members temporarily awarded Maizland-Sturdevant’s position to Irene Fanelli, who had finished two votes behind Thompson in the town’s last aldermen’s race in 2021. In fact, Fanelli had polled higher than fellow runner-up Paul Dean, who was nevertheless assigned Thompson’s position when he passed away prior to Maizland-Sturdevant’s departure.
In any event, the local elections office was well aware of Fanelli’s appointment as Maizland-Sturdevant successor as it began to prepare for this year’s candidate registration period, which officially begins at 12:00 noon on Friday. In fact, the county’s original list of available offices already identified Fanelli as the incumbent for one of the three seats up for grabs on Gibsonville’s board of aldermen.
Despite the omission of Thompson’s old post from this list, Hurdle has assured The Alamance News that she and her staff will have everything in order before candidate registration gets underway Friday.
“We notified the state so they can put it in the filing system,” she added, “and it will be ready before filing.”