Ward 6 residents will receive two ballots when they go to the polls Sept. 12: one for a short-term City Council representative; the second for a candidate to fill a three-year term.
Blame the city charter.
Wards 6, 7 and 8 already are set for the ballot this year as part of the City of Lawton council election policy that sets three seats (eight council members and the mayor) for election every year. Candidates selected at the Sept. 12 election will take their seats Jan. 8, 2024, as part of council provisions that specify new council terms begin on the second Monday in January.
The issue is complicated this year by the fact that Ward 6 hasn’t had a council representative since March 27, when Sean Fortenbaugh resigned due to health issues. Under the terms of the city charter, the full council is tasked with appointing a candidate to that vacant office until a successor can be elected at the next possible election to finish the term. The City of Lawton already has a municipal election set Sept. 12, and that is when city attorneys expect the candidate for the unexpired term to be selected by Ward 6 constituents.
Acting City Attorney Tim Wilson said a further reading of the charter provision revealed a complication: apparently two elections will be needed.
“We have to have an election to fill the unexpired term,” he said, explaining the winner of that race would take office until the end of Fortenbaugh’s term, or Jan. 8, 2024.
A second election is needed to elect the candidate who will serve the new three-year term that begins Jan. 8.
“That is the way our charter reads,” Wilson said.
That means Ward 6 residents will vote on two different races. Wilson said the issue doesn’t mean an additional election cost for the city because an election is already set, but it will mean an additional ballot expense.
Council members pointed out another potential situation: the person appointed to fill the seat until the election could be different than the winner of the race to complete Fortenbaugh’s term. Both could be different from the candidate who wins the three-year term.
“We’ve got to follow our charter,” Wilson said.
The City Clerk’s Office will accept applications through April 21 from Ward 6 residents interested in filling the seat until the election is held, and City Clerk Traci Hushbeck said three applications have been filed. Council members indicated they will review those applications after the filing period closes and select the resident to be appointed to the Ward 6 seat. Residents who want to be candidates for the Ward 6 races will file in June.