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Filling vacancy might go low-cost

Rochester Charter Commission researching election options

CORRECTION RAN FRIDAY (12/23/05)

Bruce Snyder, who is considering his interest in a vacant Ward 3 Rochester City Council seat, has run for the seat twice before. The number of times he has run in the past was incorrectly reported on Page 1B Wednesday.

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By Jeffrey Pieters

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jpieters@postbulletin.com

Rochester City Council member Jean McConnell, who died last week, was an avowed opponent of runaway government spending.

Now, plans to replace him might be redrawn with cost savings in mind.

The Rochester Charter Commission will meet Jan. 10 to discuss a charter amendment that would eliminate a requirement for a costly special election to replace McConnell for the last few months of his term, which expires Dec. 31, 2006.

To fill council vacancies in the recent past, the council has appointed temporary representatives, then held special elections to fill the unexpired terms.

In the case of McConnell's Ward 3 seat, the council will make an appointment sometime early next year. It would hold a special election, probably coinciding with the Sept. 12 statewide primary.

However, if three or more candidates filed to run in the special election, then the Sept. 12 ballot would be just a primary vote, narrowing the field to the top two finishers. That, in turn, would set up the need for a final special election within a charter-required 42 days, or by Oct. 24.

While all of that would be transpiring, candidates also would be running in Ward 3 for the four-year council term beginning Jan. 1, 2007. They'd also run on the Sept. 12 primary ballot, then in a general election on Nov. 7.

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Confusing. Costly. And all for the end result of putting a voter-selected candidate in McConnell's old seat for two or three months before a more lasting replacement takes the oath of office about a year from now.

The charter commission's remedy, discussed briefly in a meeting Dec. 13, hours after McConnell died, would be to rewrite the charter to empower the city council to make appointments for vacancies lasting a year or less, without having to conduct special elections.

The idea is "very preliminary," said David Goslee, assistant city attorney who works on charter issues. He is researching the idea in advance of the Jan. 10 meeting.

The crux of the issue is the balancing act between minimizing public cost and exasperation, and ensuring a system in which citizens are represented by the council member of their choosing.

The charter change, if the commission recommends it, is subject to unanimous council approval and could be challenged by members of the public who might object, Goslee said.

The other question council members soon will face is who they should appoint.

Bruce Snyder, who ran against McConnell several times, most recently in 2002, said he's considering his interest in either the appointment or in running for the seat. In past cases, the council has appointed candidates who agreed not to run in the special elections. Council members have not wanted to affect the outcomes of elections with their choices of appointments.

"It really depends on how they (council members) define what they're looking for," Snyder said. "I wouldn't want to put myself in a box either way."

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Snyder said he's been encouraged by people to make another try for the Ward 3 seat.

Council President Dennis Hanson said he's heard from a handful of others who have questions or interest in the open seat.

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