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Dorton’s seat to be filled by special election

KCC may choose interim trustee

Posted: August 9, 2012 6:59 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The unexpired term of late Kershaw County Board of Schools Trustees member Joey Dorton will be filled via a special election, likely to be held in late September or early October. Kershaw County Voter Registration Asst. Director James Fitzpatrick said he had concluded that the special election would be held at that time. However, he said the plan still needs to be approved by Kershaw County’s legislative delegation and the Kershaw County Board of Elections.

Fitzpatrick said if the plan is approved, candidates will be able to file for the seat later this month during a filing period to be determined.

Dorton, who was set to run unopposed in the November general election, died in a single-vehicle collision Aug. 1. He served as a representative for District 3, which encompasses the following precincts: Elgin No. 2 and 4; Lugoff No. 1 and 3; Rabon’s Crossroads; and Salt Pond.

Fitzpatrick said applicable state law, which outlines the manner in which trustees are elected, does not include definitive language dealing with this kind of contingency.

“There is no specific law that covers this,” Fitzpatrick said, “We’re going into unchartered territory.”

Fitzpatrick said the circumstance is unique because it deals with a body that governs through non-partisan representatives; candidates are not connected to a political party. He noted that state law does cover partisan candidate elections, but was unaware of any law outlining such contingencies for non-partisan bodies.

Fitzpatrick also explained that in the past, county council has appointed individuals to finish out the terms of officials who have died or left office.

“I don’t think they’re required to appoint someone, but they can,” Fitzpatrick said. “The county school board law doesn’t require it as far as I can tell. However, the county council does have the authority to appoint somebody to fill out the term if they so decide.”

In April 2008, when former school board Chairman Dana Morris vacated his seat due to an appointment to a Family Court judgeship, county council appointed Anna Stewart to fill out the remainder of his term. At the time, it was reported that county council was required by state law to fill unexpired school board terms. School board elections are held along with June primaries, but winning candidates do not take office until Jan. 1 of the following year. Current Trustee Matt Irick successfully ran for Morris’ seat.

Similarly, council appointed Dorton to fill Aline Branham’s seat in January 2004; Dorton then successfully ran for the seat that June. This is the first time in recent memory, however, that someone could be appointed to a school board seat that will have to be permanently filled through a special election.

Fitzpatrick said state law regarding partisan elections specifies that election officials have to open up the filing period no less than two weeks after the vacancy occurs. The filing period must run for one week and the primary must be conducted on the second Tuesday after the close of the filing period according. Fitzpatrick explained that if council doesn’t select a temporary appointment, the seat will remain empty until the term expires Dec. 31 and a new representative is selected via the special election.

If Fitzpatrick’s proposal is approved by the legislative delegation, the special election will be considered a primary campaign. A candidate must receive a majority of the votes in order to win the race. If no candidate manages to reach that threshold, an election similar to a runoff will be held during the Nov. 6 general election involving the top two vote getters.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter agreed with Fitzpatrick’s reasoning, saying although council has the authority to make an appointment, the way the law is written, council could ultimately leave it vacant.

“As long as you have a quorum, you could still operate so it wouldn’t affect their legal ability to operate,” Carpenter said. “I have no insight into what council is going to do, but as I understand the law, they would have the authority to appoint someone, but with the amount of time that the person would serve, there not be any value in doing that.”

Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Frank Morgan said a letter has been sent to Kershaw County Council Chairman Gene Wise indicating council has the authority to make a selection. Morgan said that a letter has also been sent to the county election board indicating an election must be held to fill the seat.

Wise, who said he has been out of town for several days, indicated he would need to be brought up to speed on the situation by the KCSD before making any firm decision as far as an appointment. He said KCSD officials were set to make a presentation regarding the millage rate during council’s meeting Tuesday, but was unaware if the topic of the vacancy would be brought forward.

Councilman Stephen Smoak said council has been directed to fill such vacancies in the past and felt the right move would be to make an appointment. 

“My preference would be that we not allow the people of that district to go unrepresented for four months,” Smoak said. “If it were vacant for one month, that would be different, but for four months, I would prefer not to have them not be represented for the next four months.”

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