Civics 101: How will the vacancy on the Sullivan County Commission be filled?

J. H. Osborne • Jul 1, 2019 at 12:38 PM

This week we take a look at a timely issue: what happens when there’s a vacancy on a county commission in Tennessee? In this case, we are looking at Sullivan County in particular because Pat Shull resigned his seat on the Sullivan County Commission, effective yesterday, in anticipation of his new job as mayor of Kingsport.

Shull was not required to resign. Legally, he could have continued to serve as a county commissioner and also be the city’s mayor. Shull said he believed, and voters told him, that the mayor’s job requires his full-time attention.

So now what happens? How does the county commission become whole again? Specifically, how long could residents of Shull’s former District 11,  which encompasses the heart of the city of Kingsport, wait before having full representation on the county commission?

It could be up to three months. But based on the filling of past vacancies, it probably won’t be that long.

Who decides? Who is eligible? When will voters themselves get a say?

Here are some answers, courtesy of Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher:

• State law requires that the county commission vote to fill the seat within 90 days of notice of the vacancy. The individual appointed will serve until the next regularly scheduled general election, which in this case is Aug. 6, 2020.

• Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Sullivan County will be notified of the opportunity to request that the office be included in the March 3, 2020 party primaries.

• Individuals interested in being appointed should contact the county mayor or a member of the county commission. Statute provides that any individual may speak on behalf of a nominee at the meeting called for the purpose of filling the vacancy; however, a commissioner must make a motion to place any name into nomination. The motion does not require a second.

In summary

The initial replacement of Shull will be by appointment of the Sullivan County Commission. Anyone who is interested — and lives in District 11 — can ask any county commissioner to place his or her name in nomination. The appointed person will serve until voters go to the polls to elect a replacement to fill out the remaining two years of Shull’s four-year term in August of next year. To run as a partisan candidate, anyone trying to get on that August ballot will likely have to run in a party primary next March.

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