Expedited democracy shouldn't be a budget-buster for the city of Brooksville. The City Council split this week on whether it should move forward with an April 10 special election to determine a replacement for David Pugh, who resigned last month after accepting a deputy's position with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. The cost of the election, projected at $25,000, is hard to swallow amid a constrained city budget and because voters head to the polls just four months later for partisan primaries and for nonpartisan elections for School Board members and judges.
Since Pugh's term did not expire until 2012, a current city ordinance requires a special election within 90 days of his Jan. 10 departure. On a 3-1 vote, the council wisely defeated a proposed amendment from Joe Johnston offering alternatives, including leaving the seat vacant or petitioning the governor's office to make the appointment. A long-term vacancy creates potential stalemates — attested to by a 2-2 vote just minutes later — that would stifle effective governing. Likewise, the council shouldn't abdicate its authority to fill a vacancy.
The disagreement didn't end there, however. A rewritten ordinance to remove the 90-day deadline and allow voters to pick a permanent replacement during the next regularly scheduled election also failed, this time on a tie vote. The council then appointed former Mayor Frankie Burnett to fill Pugh's vacancy until the special election, but couldn't muster a three-vote majority to actually set the election date. Got all that?
The impasse is absurd because prudent alternatives exist. An April election guarantees a rushed campaign and low voter turnout. The council, which planned to address the issue again Monday afternoon, also shouldn't be married to a November election when a primary date is available 10 weeks earlier. An Aug. 24 special election is a reasonable compromise to ensure that the seat is filled appropriately, expeditiously and without being an unexpected financial burden to the public.
A council decision worth applauding is the selection of Burnett as the temporary office-holder. He is an experienced hand who didn't stop working on behalf of the community even after losing his re-election bid.
His extensive community service includes involvement with Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and the NAACP, and simply cooking for and feeding holiday meals to the hungry allows him to connect with the city's needy residents, who often are overlooked amid government decision-making. He likes to point out that his homestead in south Brooksville allows him to best represent the area. After his 34-vote loss in 2008, Burnett continued to work to improve the area with a county-assembled task force that is devising plans to bring better housing, infrastructure, jobs and health care opportunities to the long-neglected neighborhood.
It's a commitment worth recognizing, and council members were wise to appoint Burnett. Asked to make a statement after his swearing in Monday, Burnett said simply, "Let's get to work.''
Indeed. Moving past the election date deadlock would be a good start.