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Watson's seat as mayor of Kingman not guaranteed


Janet Watson

KINGMAN - Contrary to previous reports, there is no guarantee Vice Mayor Janet Watson will lead city government when Mayor John Salem resigns mid-term later this summer to care for his ailing father in the Phoenix area.

Previously, Salem said a city ordinance that called for a special election to be held in the event of a mid-term mayoral vacancy was in conflict with state law, and that the City Council must appoint his replacement.

That statement was accurate, but Salem also said Arizona statutes call for the mayor's replacement to be the vice mayor.

The mayor based his comments on information provided by City Attorney Carl Cooper, but Cooper only recommended the vice mayor be appointed as a logical step.

Salem is on vacation and was not present at Tuesday's meeting when the subject was addressed.

Contacted by telephone on Wednesday, Salem acknowledged he hasn't read the specific state statute and misspoke.

"It doesn't change my feelings," said Salem. "I think the vice mayor should become the mayor."

There are quiet rumblings that not everyone on the City Council - or in the community - agree with that sentiment.

Councilman Larry Carver at Tuesday's meeting noted state law, as it pertains to general law cities such as Kingman, mandates the mayor's replacement be appointed instead of elected as a non-compliant city code adopted in the early 1980s mandates, but does not specify whether the vice mayor get the job or whether it should be any member of the council or even a resident of the city who meets the qualifications to hold public office.

The state law was enacted during the 2011 Legislature. Before the new law was passed, the previous statutes called for appointments to be made, either until the next scheduled election or until the term expired.

The new law is in section nine of Arizona Revised Statutes, chapter 235. The statute requires that the appointee "may only serve until the next regularly scheduled election unless the vacancy occurs too close to the time that nomination petitions are due for the next regularly scheduled election."

Those petitions are due 90 days before an election. A vacancy must occur within 30 days of that deadline to apply. In this case, Salem would have to delay stepping down until July 2014 in order to leave the mayoral position unfilled for several months.

In Kingman, the next City Council election is November 2014. Salem's term, and therefore whoever is appointed Mayor in his stead, expires Dec. 31, 2014.

Salem's resignation in all likelihood will occur close to a year before nomination petitions must be filed.

In other words, the obtuse language of the law failed to simplify the process.

Watson in an interview Wednesday agreed the state law isn't clear and the city ordinance needs to be completely rewritten.

To that end, the City Council on Tuesday followed Watson's recommendation to have Cooper draft two proposed ordinances that would clarify the issue for future city councils in the event of a mayoral vacancy.

One will state unequivocally the vice mayor automatically fills a mayoral vacancy - just like the US vice president takes over when something happens to the president - and another that would leave the decision for the City Council to make.

"We should align ourselves with state statute and change the city code to state the vice mayor becomes mayor," said Councilman Mark Wimpee.

Councilman Richard Anderson said he thought the nearly 18 months that will remain on Salem's term when he resigns is "quite a bit of time," and perhaps a better angle to take would be to open the appointment process to other council members or even to residents in general.

When Salem announced he would step down and it was thought a special election would have to be held at an estimated cost of about $80,000, Anderson said he would not seek the job because he didn't want to cost the city money.

Ed Jones, who unsuccessfully ran against Salem last year, has voiced interest in the position, but has not commented publicly.

"I think anyone we appoint should be somebody (already) elected," said Councilwoman Carole Young. "We (the council) pick our vice mayor and I've always assumed the vice mayor would assume the mayor position."

"This is an awkward position to be in," said Watson at Tuesday's meeting before she recommended that Cooper draft a pair of proposed ordinances.

She also pointed out Salem has yet to announce a date he will step down.

"The mayor is still the mayor," she said, expressing a desire the council will have a firm direction on the issue before that occurs.

On Wednesday, Watson told the Miner her hope is that the City Council can clarify the issue now and for years to come.

"This isn't about me," she said. "It's about the best way to provide for a smooth transition for the city, not only now, but forever."

In Kingman, members of the City Council are elected to staggered four-year terms while mayoral terms are for two years.



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