Smyrna to vote on new Ward 7 councilmember Monday

The exterior of Smyrna City Hall, a red brick building with four large columns

by Arielle Robinson

Smyrna’s City Council will decide on whether to appoint Campbell High School career and college advisor Kathy Young to Ward 7’s vacant seat at its regular meeting Monday evening.

“I just want to say thank you for including me but also just thank you for your consideration,” Young said at Thursday evening’s Committee of the Whole work session. “I’ve been very grateful for Dr. Wheaton’s service…I think he did a great job and just the thoughtfulness that he brought to his public service time was really appreciated by me.”

Former Ward 7 Councilmember Lewis Wheaton officially resigned last month due to moving out of his ward, which made him ineligible for his seat.

Young currently works at Campbell High School in a part-time position focused on college and career advisement. 

She was previously president of the Smyrna Education Foundation, an economic development consultant, part of the Smyrna Citizens Academy, the racial trust-building initiative, and is on the Committee to Honor Fanny Williams.

She moved to Atlanta to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology for her city and regional planning degree and is originally from south Georgia. Young has two children who have attended Smyrna public schools—one is still currently in school while another graduated.

Young expressed gratitude toward City Attorney Scott Cochran and Councilmember Charles “Corkey” Welch. She said that Cochran answered questions she had and Welch has reached out to her twice.

Notably, last month, Welch and Mayor Derek Norton came into conflict over the process of filling the Ward 7 seat, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

Welch at the time was unclear whether the city was actually allowed to appoint a nominee or if it had to have a special election, the MDJ reported. All Smyrna city council seats plus the mayor’s seat are up for election this November 7.

Assistant City Attorney Jeffrey Tucker cleared up councilmembers’ questions Thursday evening. Both Welch and Norton were absent.

“Under Georgia code and under the relevant cases that interpret it, Dr. Wheaton’s board seat became vacant on May the 10th,” Tucker explained. 

“The Smyrna charter section that governs what happens in that case, says in case a vacancy occurs within six months preceding the regular municipal election for council members of said city, in that event, said vacancy or vacancies shall be filled by mayor and council. So the six months would run out after the next election, so [Wheaton’s resignation is] than six months before the next regular election,” he said.

Tucker said that Cochran’s view, which Tucker agrees with, is that the mayor and council must appoint a successor because of what the city charter says.

Councilmember Susan Wilkinson said she heard that some were curious about when exactly Wheaton left his ward and how that factored into the process of filling the seat.

County records show that Wheaton moved in April.

Tucker explained that based on OCGA 45-5-1 and relevant cases, when Wheaton became ineligible to serve due to moving, his seat was not automatically vacated—legally, his seat was not vacant.

“The vacancy under the code and the relevant cases occurred the date that his resignation became effective,” Tucker said. “Which was May 10, less than six months before the next regular election.”

Tucker said the relevant case dealt with the Taylor County School Board. He said Taylor County regulations were similar to Smyrna’s.

“What happened in Taylor County was someone became ineligible to serve on the school board…and the Court of Appeals said well, he became technically ineligible on such and such a date. But his ineligibility was not in itself the vacancy of his seat,” Tucker said. 

“His seat didn’t become vacant until he resigned or was removed by the other members of the school board, which I think is what happened in that case, and they contrasted that to the next section of the code, which says, ‘upon final conviction of a felony, the office of any state officer shall be vacated immediately without further action,’” the attorney said.

If in the case the council did not appoint Young and a special election was to be held, it would be held September 19, with the general election occurring six weeks later. The hypothetical special election would happen during the early voting period for the general, while a hypothetical runoff would be scheduled two weeks before the general election.

“I’m afraid that the voters in Ward 7 wouldn’t have any idea what election they’re voting in,” Tucker said. “Because one assumes there would be overlap of the candidates here, but not necessarily.”

A special election would cost Smyrna between $30,000 to $40,000.

“So from a practical perspective, [it’s] almost an impossibility to have a fair election for Ward 7 in September—too many ways that could unravel in a way that’s disenfranchising, plus the cost of it,” Councilmember Tim Gould said. “So from my perspective, [according to] the logic that Scott and Jeffrey laid out, it makes sense for us to be in a position where we must fill the vacancy, and the only logical way to do that is with an appointment and I think we’ll have the opportunity to do that on Monday.”

Tucker said that if Young is appointed there will not be a special election and she, as well as anyone who wants to and is qualified to run for Ward 7, will be up for election during the regular November one.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.