Council has begun the somber task of replacing Ward 3 Councilman Don Willey, 69, who passed away suddenly March 1 after being diagnosed with lung cancer late last year.
City council members are still wrestling with their grief, but per city charter they are charged with filling the open seat relatively quickly. They have just 30 days, so the clock is ticking.
Laura Haller, director of legislative services, said candidates interested in the position will have until 4 p.m. March 15 to submit their resumes to her in person at city hall. They must also sign a waiver at that time verifying that they are a qualified candidate.
To qualify applicants must have lived in the city for the past two years, lived in Ward 3 for at least one year, must continue to live in Ward 3 during his or her entire term of office and cannot be employed by the municipality or hold any other elected public office.
Assuming there is more than one candidate, city council will then begin interviews at 6 p.m. March 25 at city hall, make a determination and appoint the new councilman at 6 p.m. March 28 during a special council meeting.
This person will begin serving immediately upon installation and will finish out the remainder of the term, which expires this November.
Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said candidates should be knowledgeable about the community, dedicated and hardworking.
“Obviously we are looking for people that are dedicated, have a grasp of what’s going on in the city, a willingness to serve and a willingness to continue to work with everybody else to continue on our path of where we are going,” he said. “It would help if they had some knowledge of some of the things that are going on in the city.”
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell agreed.
“What would be best for the community is someone who is interested in North Royalton, in helping us grow the community, grow business. We all have different ideas, but we need someone who works well with others, someone who is cooperative. We need somebody who has a vision of what they could see North Royalton as,” he said.
Willey, who was serving in his 12th consecutive year as Ward 3 councilman, had reached term limitations. Ward councilmen are permitted to serve just six consecutive, two-year terms.
Though a new councilman will be appointed this month, the position will still be up for election this November.
Last month, School Board Member Dan Langshaw, who has been regularly attending council meetings and committee meetings for more than a year in preparation, formally announced his plans to pursue the seat. And up until Willey’s death, Langshaw had been the only one to show interest in the seat.
Langshaw, who is also in the midst of grieving for Willey, said he does plan to seek the appointment.
“My condolences go out to the Willey family. Right now is a time to grieve. We all lost a friend and a great public servant,” he said. “Yes, I do plan to seek the appointment for Don’s seat. I’m waiting to hear what the official process will be that council sets out and will follow that process. But for now, it’s still a time for grieving.”
If Langshaw is appointed, it would create an opening on school board as well, which would be filled with a process similar to council’s.
“According to Ohio law, you can’t hold two elected offices. If I was appointed by council, I would have to resign from the school board to accept the appointment. And the school board would then have to conduct a process similar to how council will go about doing this,” Langshaw said.
The last time council faced an appointment process was in 2008 when former Ward 4 Councilman Kurt McKee resigned. Mike Farrell was appointed to finish out McKee’s term, and then Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck won the race and has served in that position since.
The last time an elected official died while in office was Mayor Lucille Heasley in the 70s.
The council president was appointed mayor in that instance, and then council had to replace that seat.
Nickell and Antoskiewicz said this current situation has been extremely difficult, emotionally, but council must move forward.
“It’s a sad situation, but the city has policy and laws in place for when an elected official quits, can no longer serve or in this case dies. We have to go on,” Nickell said. “But, Don will be missed.”
“We had a councilman who served the public for almost 12 years pass away. He has barely passed away and here we are replacing him,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is what we have to do. It’s a difficult position to be in, but we have to get it done. It’s tough to replace a councilman under these circumstances, and it’s even worse because he was a friend.”