Residents and business owners in Athens' District 4 will be without representation on the City Council until next August, when the next municipal election is held.
Council President Harold Wales announced he would not put forth a resolution to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Cannon, who became Limestone County's license commissioner Oct. 1. In September, District 3 Councilman Frank Travis was seriously injured in a domestic incident and could not attend meetings, which briefly left only three council members — Wales, District 1 Councilman Chris Seibert and District 5 Councilman Wayne Harper.
During Travis' absence, the three men expressed varying views on whether to appoint a person to fill the seat, but the general consensus was they wanted to wait until Travis returned to make a decision. That day came on Oct. 14, but the council never acted on filling the vacancy.
Several people had expressed interest in being appointed to Cannon's seat, including at least two female candidates. Wales' comment, however, made it clear the seat would remain open until the Aug. 25, 2020, municipal election.
Wales said appointing someone to fill Cannon's seat would be nothing new, as the council previously had to do so following the death of Councilman Jimmy Gill. The council also appointed Jim Hickman to fill the District 4 seat held by Ronnie Marks after Marks took over as mayor in 2010, the year then-mayor Dan Williams was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives.
“As you know, just a few months from now, there will be a City Council election, and in that election, the people of District 4 will get to choose their own City Council member through the democratic process,” Wales said. “I've thought about this a lot. Since the election is coming so soon, I just don't think it would be appropriate for the council to appoint someone to fill Joseph's spot. By the time that person gets up to speed, it would be time to have an election.”
Wales said the council has rarely had to appoint a new member so close to an election, but that's not necessarily the case. Travis announced he would seek election to Gill's seat on June 9, a little more than two months prior to the Aug. 23, 2016, municipal election. Because Travis was the only person who qualified for the seat, the council appointed him to the vacancy.
In this case, the next municipal election is nine months away.
“There has been some talk that not appointing a council member will be bad for District 4. I disagree with that,” Wales said. “The council may be elected in districts, but it looks out for the whole city. Plus, I will make sure that special focus is given to the needs of District 4 during these few months so that its needs are addressed.”
Wales encouraged other council members to challenge his decision, but no one spoke up.
Two members of the community, however, expressed their displeasure with the council's decision. Scott Marshall, who owns West End Chevron on U.S. 72 in District 4, said he felt his business needed representation on the council.
Greg Skipworth, one of those who has expressed interest in the District 4 seat, told the council “any body missing anyone is not as effective as a complete body.”
“I would ask you to reconsider,” he told the council. “If you don't, I respect your decision.”