Tensions in Carrboro over how to fill vacant seat

GOVERNMENT

By Kylie Marsh
Correspondent

(Michelle Cassell, Managing Editor, contributed to this article)

Carrboro’s newly seated Town Council unanimously voted to hold an election during the November 2024 general election to fill the seat left vacant by Barbara Foushee’s step up to mayor.

The Carrboro Town Charter allows the Council to appoint a successor or hold a special election when there is more than 1 year on the vacant seat. They could have also left the seat empty, as Chapel Hill did when Rachel Schaevitz resigned from the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2020.

Following Council member Eliazar Posada’s query to the town attorney about the appointment process toward the end of the November 29 council meeting, residents began expressing their preference for a special election. Chapelboro published an article laying out the history of the 2006 appointment debacle following Mark Chilton’s election to mayor, after which the Council at that time revised the Town Charter to allow for a special election.

Other residents advocated for appointment as the norm for the majority of communities around the state. One side claimed that letting residents vote is the democratic choice while others claimed democracy had elected those on council which would make an appointment equally democratic.

During the December 5 meeting, Mayor Foushee informed the public that appointment and special election are both legitimate actions. During deliberations, Council member Danny Nowell began the discussion saying, “I’m reminded just how critical it is that we really do represent all of the people who got us here.”

Council member Posada, who won the special election in 2020 after Damon Seils was elected mayor, shared his concern that a special election would impose a financial hardship on candidates who would need to raise money and put together a campaign committee with such a short window and then again 18 months later. “As we look and talk in Carrboro about how much we value equity and inclusion, how are we being equitable or including folks who don’t have the capacity to mount an election at a moment’s notice?”

By the end of the conversation, the desire to balance the right of the public to a democratic vote and to be equitable to all who might be interested in serving, the proposal was made to hold a special election but to do so in November rather than March. The vote for that proposal was unanimous.

The town of Carrboro will determine details on filing dates. Any costs outside those of conducting the general election will be carried by the town, according to a representative from the Orange County Board of Elections.

The historic swearing-in ceremony

During the earlier installation ceremony, Congresswoman Valerie Foushee administered the oath of office for Mayor Barbara Foushee. Mayor Foushee acknowledged her historic position as Carrboro’s first female Black mayor and acknowledged the late Robert “Bob” Drakeford who was the first Black mayor of Carrboro. “It’s never been about me – family is community, and community is family.”

Carrboro boasts a historic lineup on its Town Council. Not only is Barbara Foushee Carrboro’s first Black woman mayor, but Council Member Eliazar Posada is the first openly queer Latino elected to public office in North Carolina, and Council Member Catherine Fray is the state’s first non-binary elected official.

Mayor Pro Tempore Susan Romaine, Council Member Sammy Slade and Mayor Damon Seils were honored with resolutions detailing their lengthy careers in service to Orange County and Carrboro communities as they resigned from their positions on Council.

To the readers from the editor: The original article by Kylie Marsh was retracted and revised due to some errors we found a few hours after publication.


A former TLR correspondent from Durham, Kylie Marsh returns to writing for the paper, albeit from new digs in Charlotte. Her work has also appeared in QCity Metro. As a graduate of NYU, she writes about local issues of class, race and inequality. When not freelancing, Kylie is organizing for the rights of workers, women and the homeless in Charlotte. 

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