Legislature allows Brookhaven mayor to fill vacant council seats by appointment

The city of Brookhaven
The city of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

Credit: City of Brookhaven

The state Legislature passed a bill that would allow the Brookhaven mayor and City Council to fill vacant seats without a special election.

The city has a four-person City Council, so Mayor John Ernst said the change is necessary to prevent stagnation if a city leader dies or resigns.

“On a four-member city council, any vacancy for any length of time impacts the ability of the city to transact the business of the people,” he said in a prior email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He cited a time in 2014 when a councilman resigned, and a special election wasn’t held for seven months. If there is more than one vacant City Council seat, they would not be able to meet a quorum to consider business and run the city.

ExploreBill would let Brookhaven mayor fill vacant council seats by appointment

The bill allows the mayor to appoint a replacement regardless of how much time is left in the councilmember’s term. If it is less than 12 months, the appointed member would serve until the next regular election. If the term has more than 12 months remaining, the appointed member would serve until a special election could be held.

All appointments need the approval of City Council, who can also appoint a new mayor if there’s a vacancy.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven), was a second attempt to accomplish this goal. A different bill passed both the House and Senate in 2020 but a last-minute change sent the bill before voters in November and it was voted down.

That ballot failed to include language about giving the mayor the power to fill vacant seats, instead including only a mention of removing term limits for the mayor’s office. The omission of the language may have contributed to the defeat of the referendum, Wilson previously said. About 55% of Brookhaven voters rejected the proposal.

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Barring a surprise veto from Gov. Brian Kemp, the new change will become a permanent part of the city’s charter.

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