The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

A Few Comments on the Fronabarger Appointment

with 2 comments

As I mentioned, I have been very busy the last couple of months and I expect to be through this month and likely into the middle of July. I do want to take a moment to offer the comments I promised on the Fronabarger appointment.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I wrote back in February that the council should appoint whoever finished fourth in the election to fill Fritzler’s seat, should he win the mayoral race. I still think that would have been the right thing to do, especially considering the extremely close race for third place. On the other hand, I voted for Fronabarger in the primary and might have voted for him in the general if I’d thought he could win. I like his platform and I think he’d make a good council member.

The main problem I see with his appointment is that Fronabarger lacks democratic legitimacy. It’s difficult to see how the council can justify skipping fourth place finisher Tom Grant (who just barely missed third place and a seat on the council) and every other candidate who the voters preferred and instead elevate Fronabarger to the council.

Appointing a person to fill a seat for two years is very different than appointing someone for a few months, as happened last year in the aftermath of Lance Jack’s resignation. The appointment comes just a few weeks after a close election. The council should have followed the wishes of the voters. Tom Grant should have been appointed.

In general, I support the “trustee” view of representation. That means we elect representatives to govern on our behalf and in most cases we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt when they make decisions we don’t like. Most of us don’t have the time, knowledge, or inclination to govern, which is one reason we use representative democracy rather than direct democracy.

It may seem odd, even hypocritical, for a supporter of the trustee view to second guess the council on this appointment. But it is precisely because I support the trustee view that I consider a democratic choice for a legislative position so important. Council members earn the authority to govern through the electoral process. An unelected council member lacks that legitimacy – especially when the voters so recently expressed their preference for another candidate.

Having said all that, I don’t support the “movement” to force Fronabarger to resign and to demand that the council appoint Grant. Fronabarger was lawfully appointed under the rules that are in place right now. I wouldn’t want to see him hectored or harassed into resigning. If people don’t like the appointment, working on changing the rules for next time would be a better use of their time and energy than harassing the appointee.

I will point out that it’s been at least twenty years since a sitting council member in mid-term has been elected mayor, assuming it has ever happened. I use the archived election results on the Jackson County website, and they only go back to 1996.  Dillard was reelected in 1995. I believe he was first elected in 1991 and I’m not sure if he was on the council at the time. The point is that this situation doesn’t come up very often.

Still, I’d prefer that we have a better system. Ideally, whenever a sitting council member with an unexpired term is elected mayor, the person who finished fourth in the council election would automatically be deemed elected. I’m not sure if such a system would be lawful, but I’d like to see the city’s council investigate the idea. Maybe the anti-Fronabarger people could refocus their efforts toward something along these lines.

Finally, I’m going to do some speculating on why the council skipped Grant. Scott Thorne actually asked the council members and posted their replies on the Carbondaze Gazette blog. But I love speculation, so here’s my guess. I suspect there was at least one council member who wouldn’t vote for Grant. The council likely wanted a unanimous appointment, and I’m betting they weren’t  able to get it on a Grant, so they turned to Fronabarger.

Am I right? I have no idea. I could have emailed council members to ask, but then I wouldn’t be speculating and, as I said, I love to speculate.

Comments (and further speculation) are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

2 Responses

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  1. In conversation with one council member after the meeting, they indicated your speculation comes pretty close to what happened. Near as I could tell, Grant did not have unanimous support amongst council members so Fronabarger was selected as the replacement that would satisfice (not satisfy) all council members.


    June 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    • Thanks! I couldn’t remember for sure, but I was thinking that one sitting council member made negative remarks before the election about Grant not attending council meetings. As I recall, Grant replied that he watches them from home. I usually watch them from home too, so I was sympathetic to that reply. I guess that council member wasn’t. Good to know what happened.

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