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Fill the South seat; Council should be acting promptly in finding a replacement for Kearns

Although hardly unprecedented, South District residents have every right to be a little miffed that the process to fill their vacant Common Council seat has dragged on more than a month, with no quick end in sight.

The South District seat has been vacant since Michael P. Kearns won a March 20 special election to the Assembly. The remaining eight Council members have been unable to cobble together the five votes required to appoint someone to the seat.

That delay has become much more than a minor annoyance to residents who are left with no one representing them during the city's budget talks, let alone available to handle the day-to-day routine in the district.

None of the 11 candidates who submitted resumes by April 5 has proved suitable. Some failed to meet eligibility requirements: candidates must be Democrats, as Kearns was, and must have lived in the South District for a year. Council members interviewed six applicants on April 16. For various reasons, this crop of candidates failed to make the grade and so the door has been opened for new applicants. There is no timetable for the Council to make a decision.

It's a routine that's familiar to observers of city politics.

The Council took seven weeks in replacing Brian C. Davis, who resigned his Ellicott District seat in late 2009 after he pleaded guilty to spending campaign funds for personal use. Buffalo State College economics professor Curtis Haynes Jr. was finally named to the vacancy. He later lost the seat to the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen.

Lawmakers could prevent lengthy delays in Council appointments by revisiting earlier proposals setting guidelines for filling Council vacancies.

Pridgen last year proposed a law that would give the mayor power to fill vacancies if lawmakers failed to do so within 60 days. He was reacting to the long delay in filling the Ellicott seat, which effectively disenfranchised the district's residents. Of course, the proposal to hand the mayor even more power didn't get far.

Other suggested fixes also found little support, including staging a special election shortly after a Council vacancy occurs.

Council President Richard Fontana, who represents Lovejoy, says South District residents shouldn't worry about a lack of representation. He says residents have been using the city 311 system for reporting minor complaints, and he's made himself available to residents, even staffing the South District office with an intern who previously worked in the area.

Moreover, he says the interests of South District residents are being taken care of at the budget table -- assurances that might ring hollow to residents used to Kearns' presence on the Council.

It's the job of lawmakers to make appointments when vacancies arise. They have a duty to fill the seat promptly.