LaGrange discusses mayoral election timeline

Published 3:20 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2022

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During the LaGrange City Council work session on Tuesday morning, city leaders discussed plans to hold a special election to replace outgoing Mayor Jim Thornton.

The current plan is to hold the mayoral election in conjunction with the upcoming special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) vote in March.

City Attorney Jeff Todd gave an overview of timeline requirements for elections to replace a mayor or council member who resigns mid-term.

Todd explained that in LaGrange’s charter —which harkens back to when elections were much simpler — a special election is to be held no sooner than 10 days from the resignation and no longer than 30 days from the resignation.

That all changed about 20 years ago when the State of Georgia began legislating when cities can have special elections. Currently, there are only a few days during which special elections can be called based on whether it’s an odd-or-even-numbered year.

For odd-numbered years, elections can be held in March, June, September and November. The next opportunity for a special election will be on the third Tuesday in March when the SPOST vote is scheduled.

“We don’t have the option to call [the election] in February, May or April. We have four options. The first one is in March. March 21.” Todd said.

Todd said the election timeline that is being developed is based on two considerations, holding the election in March and holding qualifying as late as possible in the process to continue having as many members on the council as possible for as long as possible. If a current city council member runs for mayor, they would have to resign when they qualify for the election, meaning the council could be shorthanded if the timing works out incorrectly.

The proposed election calendar would hold election qualifying on two and a half days in the week of Jan. 25. Election qualifying would be held on Jan. 23, Jan. 24, and the morning of Jan. 25.

“State code allows you to have qualification anywhere from two and a half days to five days,” Todd said.

The ballot builder is requesting just two and a half days of qualifying in order to give them time to get the ballot prepared correctly because of the compressed schedule.

The proposed election schedule could be acted on as soon as the Dec. 13 council meeting.

The calendar as proposed would allow for any current council members to remain on the city council for the scheduled Jan. 24 meeting and eliminate potential quorum issues.

“If you are a city council member, and you are considering qualifying to run for mayor, you do not have to resign as a council member until you actually qualify,” Thornton said. “Under state law, when you qualify, you go over there to the county and file the affidavit to qualify, you’re deemed to have resigned at that point in time from your city council position.”

Councilmembers can announce their intention to run for the office at any time and remain on the council until they qualify.

“You could announce your intent to run, but you wouldn’t officially qualify and thereby have to resign as a city council member until the morning of Jan. 25, which would give you the ability to have a quorum the meeting on Jan. 24,” Thornton explained to the council.

Thornton noted there’s a risk that if more than one council member were to qualify on Jan. 23 then they would be deemed to have resigned and there would be a potential to not have a quorum for the evening meeting.

It also depends on which council member qualifies. If the qualifying mayoral candidate has less than a year left on their term, the remaining council members can appoint a successor or call for a special election to fill the unexpired term.

It would be too late to add a city council election on the March ballot by the time qualifying occurs, so a special could be held in June at the earliest.