One word can be used to sum up the feeling of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners following Thursday’s announcement that Mayor Deborah Cochran is being considered to replace Garry Scearce on the county board of commissioners — shock.
“It was an absolute shock to us to hear that she may be resigning,” said Dr. Steve Yokeley, commissioner and mayor pro tempore.
Yokeley said that while he’s happy for Cochran and the county should she take the position, he hates to see Mount Airy lose such a competent mayor.
“They couldn’t have picked anyone better, but we’ll be losing her as mayor and that’s going to be a great loss to us. She’s done an outstanding job and is so good at working with people,” he said.
But Yokeley said there is a gleam of hope.
“It’s probably premature to say anything at this point because she hasn’t actually resigned yet,” he said.
During a press conference Thursday, the Surry County Board of Commissioners announced that Cochran was their — and Scearce’s — choice to fill the vacant seat.
While she said she was honored at being considered, she said she needed to think and pray about whether or not to accept.
“I am willing to consider this appointment, and will make it a matter of prayer, as I do when making decisions,” she said.
Yokeley said this is somewhat uncharted territory, his understanding is that as mayor pro tempore he will take over the duties until the full board makes an appointment.
“I don’t think there’s anything in the city charter about replacing the mayor, but since I’m pro tempore, I’d take the position temporarily until we can appoint someone,” he said.
According to City Attorney Hugh Campbell, Yokeley is correct.
“There’s not a procedure in place that’s mandated other than that the council is responsible for making an appointment to fill the vacancy,” he said. “Missing from the statute is any mandatory time period or specific procedure that must be followed.”
The pertinent section of state code, 160A-63, reads simply that “a vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of city council.”
Campbell said things are somewhat up in the air at this point, adding that he cannot remember an instance when the Mount Airy mayor left office prior to the end of his or her term. Cochran’s term as mayor ends in 2013.
“The council does have some experience in filling vacancies, and prior boards have come up with a procedure, but I don’t know whether those same procedures will be followed in this situation,” he said. “But if it does come to pass, there isn’t a time frame, but I’m confident that the board would appoint someone on a timely basis.”
For Yokeley, Cochran’s loss will be a blow to the city, and hope remains that it will not become a reality.
“We’re still in shock right now,” he said. “We’re happy for her and the county, but really sad for the city.
“She’ll still be serving us well, I’m sure, but everything is premature at this point, until she actually resigns.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.