ERWIN — A plan to fill the vacancy on the Unicoi County Commission left by Doug Bowman’s resignation from the panel Wednesday is already in place, according to Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch.
Lynch said Thursday that he spoke with County Attorney Doug Shults on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning to look into how the county should go about replacing Bowman.
Bowman, who represented the county’s first district on the commission, submitted his immediate resignation from the commission and Planning Commission prior to a called meeting of the county commission held Wednesday. In a letter addressed to commission Chairman Mickey Hatcher, Bowman cited response he received from the county mayor and fellow commissioners at an April meeting, during which he had initially abstained from voting on the renewal of a capital outlay note for renovations previously completed, as his family’s construction company, Bowman & Sons Construction, had intended to bid on future work at the jail annex.
“After the comments made at the April county commission meeting about Bowman & Sons Construction submitting a bid on the 911 renovations project, it became apparent that I would be forced to choose between my family business and my service on the county commission,” Bowman’s letter said. “This choice was very easy. It would not be fair for my service on the commission to deny my brothers the opportunity to bid on work in Erwin.”
According to the minutes of that April meeting, Bowman, who holds ownership stake in Bowman & Sons Construction, changed his vote to vote in favor of the note’s renewal when asked by other commissioners if he would be willing to change his vote.
Lynch said the process used to fill Bowman’s seat on the commission will be similar to the process it undertook last year to appoint an interim sheriff following the resignation of former sheriff Kent Harris.
The commission will look to appoint a new commissioner to fill Bowman’s term at its regular July 22 meeting, Lynch said. A couple of weeks prior to this meeting, the county will issue a public notice regarding the vacancy and the office to be filled.
Once this notice has been issued, the commission chairman can allow registered voters of the county to submit names of candidates to fill the vacancy. These may be submitted in writing to the chairman prior to or in person at the meeting. In order for the commission to consider a candidate to fill the vacancy, the potential appointee must be nominated by a member of the county commission, Lynch said.
“That’s where we’re not sure how we’ll handle it,” Lynch said. “Depending on how many nominees there are, they may do, if there’s not many nominees, they may do a vote and then take out the bottom vote-getters. It will be handled in whatever way Chairman Hatcher decides.”
He also said nominees may be interviewed before the commission votes on an appointee. According to state law, to receive an appointment, a nominee must received the votes of a majority of the members of the county legislative body eligible to vote on the appointment.
Lynch said registered voters can also recommend nominees to county commissioners now.
“They know that somebody has resigned, so if we have someone in the community that’s interested in being on the county commission, that seems like they may have the qualifications, and they’re from that district, then they need to go ahead and contact a county commissioner,” Lynch said.
Bowman had served on the county commission since 2004. Lynch said the person appointed to fill the vacancy will serve until at least Sept. 1, 2014, but could serve longer if this nominee decides to run and is elected in the August 2014 general election.
Lynch said he spoke with Bowman following his resignation, and Bowman has agreed to remain on the county’s planning commission through July. A mayoral appointment will be made at the county commission’s July 22 meeting to replace Bowman on that panel, Lynch said.
Although state law provides up to 120 days from the time the resignation is submitted to fill the vacancy, Lynch said the county commission is set to soon begin work on its 2013-14 budget. Due to this, and other county business, he said the vacancy needs to be filled as quickly as possible.
“It’s important to us to get someone on there,” Lynch said. “We have at least one board member that’s sick, and then have a couple who’ve had some health problems, so it’s important that we have people there to have a quorum to vote on.”