Mount Vernon News June 21, 2021
By Bob Pepalis
MOUNT VERNON – In recent years, the Mount Vernon City Council has seen some turnover, but filling a vacancy after an official resigns without holding an election concerns Meg Galipault, the Knox County Democratic Party chairwoman.
“What I do find disconcerting is when an elected official steps down in the middle of their term, which most often leads to the county political party’s central committee appointing their replacement,” she said. “In other words, the replacement has not been elected by the public.”
That exact scenario just happened earlier this month when Councilman Tanner Salyers, up for reelection in November, resigned his post to replace retiring County Recorder John Lybarger. GOP officials appointed Salyers to the position.
Both Galipault and her Republican counterpart, Thom Collier, told the Mount Vernon News the reasons for turnover have varied historically and sometimes have included members being ready to retire.
“I understand that sometimes such transitions are unavoidable, but I do worry about this as a strategic move,” Galipault said.
An incumbent has an edge over other candidates and is more likely to be reelected, she said.
Salyers’ appointment to county recorder marks the second time the Knox GOP Central Committee selected him for a position. The first case occurred in October 2019, when leaders picked him to fill the council seat vacated by Chris Menapace, who resigned because he was leaving the city. Salyers won reelection to an at-large council seat that November, as three candidates were on the ballot for the three at-large posts.
Amber Keener was appointed by the members of the Knox GOP Central Committee who live in Mount Vernon to fill the remainder of Salyer’s term. She also is a candidate on the ballot for one of the three at-large seats this November.
As the majority party in Knox County, the Republicans could theoretically use the practice of party appointments to benefit through incumbency, Galipault told the News. Holding the majority makes it easier for Republicans to move up politically to other seats as well.
“So there becomes an endless cycle of Republican dominance, from city council to state senator (which is further compounded by gerrymandering that favors Republican supermajorities in state offices),” Galipault said. “As a voter, I would rather have more balanced representation. Supermajorities are not healthy for either party because they often end in corruption.”
Salyers told the News he sees it less as turnover and more that the city and county are experiencing a generational “changing of the guard.”
Former Mayor Richard Mavis retired after 24 years in office. Lybarger retired from the Knox County recorder’s post mid-term after being elected seven times.
Collier, the GOP chair, said the two-year council terms give local residents the opportunity to pick their best representatives and also help ensure a diverse group of people on council.
But Galipault fears the practice of filling appointments has created a lopsided political environment. She noted that not long ago, City Council was evenly represented by Democrats and Republicans, but that is not the case today.
“A couple of overlapping factors weigh into this,” she said. “The divisive political climate nationally has infected our local discourse, with voters becoming much more partisan; and as a result, Democrats are less inclined to run for office.”