CORUNNA — On May 16, 2017, Dawn Johnson resigned from the Corunna City Council, leaving a vacant seat in the city’s third ward, which represents residents north of the Shiawassee River.
More than two years later, the seat remains empty because no one has applied for the position.
The vacancy has not caused any issues, but it could, City Manager Joe Sawyer said.
“One absence can really throw the council for a loop when it comes to maintaining quorums, adopting a budget, passing ordinances. If there were to be a mayor veto, that takes five council votes to override,” Sawyer said. “Right now it’s a third ward problem. In the past it’s been the first ward. It changes.”
Unlike neighboring cities Owosso and Durand, Corunna is divided into three wards, which determine its council representation. Only two council members may live in a single ward, meaning representation is split equally between the three areas of the city. However, city residents vote for all council candidates, regardless of which ward they live in.
Council members serve four-year terms.
Corunna also differs from Owosso and Durand in that its mayor is elected by the public, rather than being a council member elevated by the council. The Corunna mayor serves a two-year term and only votes on council matters when there is a tie.
In addition, there are certain situations in which the mayor cannot break a tie, such as when approving the budget, adopting an ordinance or, as in the current situation, when there is an odd number of council members due to a vacant seat, Sawyer said.
There must be at least four council members present at meetings, not including the mayor, and a vacancy leaves only one extra seat. Furthermore, many ordinances, including the upcoming proposal to opt out of medical marijuana dispensaries, require a minimum of four votes for approval.
Sawyer said the ward system has lost its original importance.
“The county board of supervisors pre-dated the board of commissioners. In cities, we had seats based on number of wards we had,” Sawyer said. “When this was originally set up with three wards, it was intended to guarantee us three seats on the county board.”
The county switched from a board of supervisors to commissioners about five decades ago.
The thought of moving away from the ward system has come up a few times during Sawyer’s tenure, primarily due to the residency requirement for council members, he said. The move would require a change of the city’s charter, and the process has been researched, though no action has been taken.
“In the end, people like that guarantee that there’s a council member in their neighborhood, versus the potential of having all council members in one neighborhood,” Sawyer said. “When I look at Owosso and Durand, I’m not hearing that those communities are having an issue of that. I’ve never read those headlines I haven’t seen that problem. It may just be the fear of the unknown, the fear of change that keeps us from making those changes.”
When the seat became vacant in 2017, city officials posted the position on the city’s website and in local newspapers. Those interested in the seat must fill out an application and send along a resume, Sawyer said. The key requirement is that he or she live in the third ward. All submissions go before the council for appointment.
“In terms of interest, it picks up steam and then it loses steam,” Sawyer said. “Right now, it doesn’t really have a lot of steam. Hopefully, when it picks up again, someone will put their hat in the ring for the 2020 election.”
The vacant term is set to expire in November 2022.
The council currently includes Helen Granger and Chuck Spring of the first ward. Spring is up for re-election in 2020 while Granger is in office until 2022. Judy Horton and John Lawson represent the second ward. Horton’s term is up in 2020 while Lawson is on the council until 2022. Mike White represents the third ward. His seat expires in 2020. Kerridge also is up for election in 2020.