January 3, 2017

New Year’s Resolution # 1:  Know How to Fill Vacancies in Elected City Offices

New Year’s Resolution # 1:  Know How to Fill Vacancies in Elected City Offices

For most cities, it’s the time of year to hold swearing in ceremonies and help newly elected city officials get ready to start their terms on January 1st.  However, some cities view the countdown to the new year with panic, because due to resignations, too few candidates, or other reasons, they will be staring at some empty seats at their first meeting of 2017.

It is important to understand that Kentucky law sets forth a very specific process for filling vacancies in elected office – i.e., vacancies in the office of mayor or legislative body member.  KRS 83A.040 requires the legislative body to fill these vacancies by appointment within 30 days.  If more than one vacancy exists on the legislative body, they must be filled one at a time so that each new appointee has the opportunity to meet with the other members and act to fill the remaining vacancies.  If the legislative body fails to fill a vacancy within 30 days, the power to fill the vacancy shifts to the Governor.

When a vacancy occurs, cities must immediately notify the county clerk and the Secretary of State in writing.

A few additional tips to keep in mind:

  • It is important to determine the date that the vacancy actually will occur, because that date starts the clock on the 30-day appointment timeline.  For instance, if a city did not have enough candidates run this past November to fill all the city council seats, the vacancies will not exist until the term of office for those seats begins --  i.e., January 1st.  If an elected official resigns, the office becomes vacant at the next meeting following the resignation date specified in the written resignation letter that must be submitted to the legislative body.
  • If it is known in advance that a vacancy will occur, the legislative body is usually authorized to make a prospective appointment within a reasonable time before the vacancy exists.  HOWEVER, prospective appointments can only be made if the legislative body making the appointment is made up of exactly the same members that it will have when the vacancy actually occurs.  This means that for those cities that have new legislative body members starting their terms in January, the existing legislative body cannot prospectively fill any vacancies that will occur on or after January 1st.
  • If the mayor’s office becomes vacant due to a resignation, the resigning mayor cannot vote on his or her successor.  Legislative body members in mayor-council cities cannot vote for themselves to fill the vacant mayor office (sorry!), but legislative body members in commission and manager cities can vote for themselves (lucky you!). 
  • There is no specific procedure that governs how the legislative body chooses the person to fill the vacancy, and cities do it in different ways.  You can advertise for the position, hear statements from interested candidates at your meetings, choose the next highest vote getter, or you can do any or none of the above.  As long as the person otherwise meets the requirements to be an elected city official (age, residency, oath), the legislative body can choose whomever they want.

NOTE:  Louisville and Lexington, your terms of office will begin on the first Monday in January (January 2nd)  rather than January 1st.  With these rules in hand, you can now ring in 2017 with peace of mind and excitement for what’s in store for your city in the new year.