Wednesday, September 28, 2022

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Third-place finishers

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We’re rather amused by some of the rhetoric that supposes that Melody Wiggins, who was defeated in her bid for re-election to the Graham city council, should be re-installed as a city council member by virtue of her third-place finish.

Particularly amusing since that would require the very people who defeated her to decide to restore her to a seat on the council.

In the past, we have sometimes argued in favor of appointment of the runner-up in an election.

But there are significant differences between when we believe that’s appropriate, and when it’s not.

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As we’ve observed before, when new candidates are runners-up, we think they deserve special consideration in the event of a subsequent vacancy. But not when incumbents have been defeated.

Most notably, in 2007, when Ronnie Wall was elevated from his city council seat to the mayor’s chair, we felt that Celo Faucette, who had been the third-place finisher in that year’s municipal race, should have been appointed.

Faucette also had a track record of having been the third-place finisher in the previous election, in 2005, as well.

But the council subsequently deadlocked 2-2 on his appointment, and instead opted to bring back David Maynard, who had retired from the council, for another two-year stint.

But may we quote ourselves, since we still agree with what we wrote 15 years ago:
“As a general rule, we do not think incumbents who are defeated should be appointed to subsequent vacancies by their former colleagues. The voters obviously wanted a change, and they should have the change they sought – not have it reversed by having the defeated officeholder restored by his friends on the same public body from which he was defeated.” – December 20, 2007

There had been some speculation that year that the Burlington council might reach back and bring back either of the former mayors who had been recently defeated in their re-election bids, Joe Barbour or Steve Ross.

We didn’t think they deserved appointment any more than we now don’t think Melody Wiggins deserves another term, after voters rejected her re-election bid in favor of two newcomers.

Voters should have the change they sought.

By the way, the most certain way to assure service on the council is to win a seat. For Celo Faucette, the third time was the charm; in 2009, he won election to the very council that had turned him away.

He served two, four-year terms, before losing his bid for mayor in 2017 against then-mayor Ian Baltutis.

But Graham also has precedent for skipping Wiggins. In 2005, when the voters elevated councilman Jerry Peterman to the post of mayor, one of the council’s first decisions was to select his replacement to serve out a two-year term on the city council.

The council skipped over Joel Walker, who had previously been defeated and failed in his comeback effort in 2005, who had placed third in the fall election.

The council instead named fourth-place finisher Mickey Cheek for the two-year appointment.

But Cheek could not subsequently win the seat; he lost in 2007 and failed in several subsequent comeback attempts.

So council members need to ensure that the person they select is likely to do well in the subsequent election.

Generally, it is preferable – though by no means mandatory – to have a harmonious group of council members.

The increasing frequency of having candidates who run as “slates” also adds to the importance of having a compatible appointee.

Wiggins seemed to have had her own slate, of sorts, during the 2021 election, which was opposed to the “slate” that Talley put together in 2021, which prevailed – both at the mayor level, and with the two new council members.

No one needs to agree with everyone all the time, to be sure, but the kind of overt hostility and personal animus that Wiggins demonstrated repeatedly during the two years in which she and Talley overlapped on the council between 2019-2021 made for uncomfortable council meetings and lowered Graham’s reputation for professionalism.

Also illustrative of the contempt with which Wiggins treats Talley and the rest of the current council, despite laying out a procedure asking applicants to fill out a questionnaire, Wiggins applied for the appointment but refused to do so, acting as though she is “entitled” to the appointment.

We don’t know who Graham’s current council may select for its fifth council member, but we cannot imagine that it would be Wiggins.

Graham needs a solid council member, who can immediately become a fully participating member, whose insights and participation will round out, and complement, the current members, not antagonize them.

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