The Bellevue City Council should not reject a mayor's appointee for purely political reasons, Nebraska's secretary of state said Tuesday as he weighed in on a months-long stalemate over filling a vacant council seat.
Secretary of State John Gale supported a legal opinion from Bellevue's city attorney that said the mayor can resubmit a nominee's name as often as she likes.
But if Mayor Rita Sanders and the council can't agree on an appointee, Bellevue should move forward quickly with a special election, Gale said.
Nebraska's chief election official also said someone could sue the city to force a resolution of the dispute.
“The process of government goes on, including matters of real substance, without Ward 1 being represented,” Gale wrote. “A representative democracy should abhor a vacancy.”
The council had asked Gale to discuss the process of filling the Ward 1 council seat.
Gale said in his letter that he was hesitant to do so but hoped that it would help the city come to a resolution.
“To be a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people,' the people must have a voice through their chosen representative, either by election or by appointment,” he wrote. “So, filling a vacancy must be a high priority to assure a balanced government with the voices of all citizens equally represented.”
Gale said the Bellevue City Council should not abandon its role in ensuring that a qualified appointee is chosen. However, he also wrote: “It's not the role of the council to arbitrarily reject an appointee because they want a different candidate — one that more closely meets their political goals.”
City Council President Don Preister, who has led the call for a special election, said he sees Gale's letter as an affirmation of his efforts. Preister said he would still like to see an election to fill the vacancy.
The seat has been open since March, when former Councilman Scott Houghtaling moved away for a job.
Sanders has tried to appoint businessman Michael Hall. But three council members have blocked the mayor's appointment, saying they prefer another businessman, Dave Compton.
Although those council members proposed a special election, two others on the council and the mayor voted against that action. Since then, neither side has reported much progress.
In response to Gale's opinion, Councilwoman Carol Blood asked that the council vote again on a special election at its next meeting.
Sanders said she wants Gale's letter to be read into the minutes of Monday's council meeting and, after that, the interested parties should sit down to work out a compromise.
She will be out of town for a conference and will not attend the meeting, she said.
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