ATTLEBORO — Mayor Paul Heroux has found a gap in mayoral succession as laid out in the city charter which would have an impact if he is elected sheriff of Bristol County in November or if some terrible accident should befall him.
The charter does not account for the eight to 10 weeks it would take to hold a special election if he or some other mayor were to resign or die creating a permanent vacancy with more than nine months to go in his or her term.
“The city charter is written in a way that if a vacancy occurs with more than nine months to go until the end of the term, a special election needs to be called by the council,” Heroux said. “If it’s less than nine months, there is no special election. The city council chooses somebody from the council to act as the interim mayor until the end of the term.”
But the charter does not provide a way to appoint an interim mayor for the eight to 10 weeks during which the special election is being organized and held.
So, if Heroux is elected sheriff in January, there would be no way to fill the gap because there would be more than nine months remaining in his term.
“So my proposal is that the city council choose somebody from the council to be the interim mayor while the special election is going on over the course of eight to 10 weeks that Massachusetts General Law requires,” he said.
Heroux has asked the city council to request a charter change from the state’s Legislature after consulting with the city solicitor.
Asked if he would continue in office if elected sheriff until a new mayor is elected, he said there’s a more urgent problem than that.
“The bigger problem isn’t that I get elected to another office,” he said. “The bigger problem is that there is a gap in the charter and if I got hit by a bus today or died of a heart attack tomorrow, there would be no one with the legal authority to sign payroll, to sign purchase orders or to issue instructions to department heads.”
Heroux said the council could elect someone to act as the interim mayor, but that person would not have the legal authority make decisions and that could result in lawsuits.
The last time the council requested a special act of the Legislature it took three years to get the job done.
That request involved making the city charter gender neutral.
But Heroux said he believes it will be quicker this time.
“I am confident that this hole in the charter will be covered before long,” he said.
George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.