- Bentonville City Attorney George Spence resigns
- City fails to notify public of Spence resignation
- City council can appoint a replacement or call for a special election
- Mayor advocating for replacement without sufficient time for public input
ACTION ITEM: Call Bentonville city council members and mayor. Let them know you want a public process for selecting a new city attorney.
Tonight at 6pm Bentonville city council will meet, and the mayor will propose a replacement for city attorney George Spence.
Spence submitted his letter of resignation on December 16, 2022 and his term expired at the end of the year. Procedurally, it’s up to Bentonville’s city council to appoint a new city attorney when one resigns, but Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman plans to appoint a replacement at tonight’s city council meeting.
Bentonville residents that care about transparency, accountability, and public process should be concerned. The city did not notify the public of Spence’s resignation, and the mayor only notified the public of her appointee via city council agenda. But more importantly, it’s not the mayor’s responsibility to select a replacement for city attorney. Appointments are the job of city council. And according to Arkansas statute, either a special election must be held or council can appoint a replacement for the remainder of a term.
Article 19 section 5 of the Arkansas Constitution says “All officers shall continue in office after the expiration of their official terms, until their successors are elected and qualified.” In this case, Spence is a constitutional holdover and remains city attorney. His resignation, however, creates a vacancy in office.
Arkansas statute §14-43-412 addresses vacancies: council shall appoint someone to fill the position until a successor is elected and qualified:
- “In case any office of an elected officer, except aldermen of the ward, becomes vacant before the expiration of the regular term, then the vacancy shall be filled by the city council until a successor is duly elected and qualified. (b) The successor shall be elected for the unexpired term at the first general election that occurs after the vacancy has happened.”
Per this provision, a special election will need to be held in order to select a new city attorney. Arkansas has an additional procedure, stating council may fill vacancies through appointment to fill the remainder of the term:
- If no attorney residing in the city is elected as city attorney, the city council may select a resident attorney to fill the office for the remainder of the unfilled term.
This statute is arguably less defensible from a constitutional standpoint. But either way, appointment lies within the purview of city council; there is no legal requirement for the mayor to appoint a replacement for city attorney. It’s critical Bentonville elected officials do right by residents and select a city attorney in a transparent manner that is accountable to the public.
The Bentonville city council meets tonight at 6pm. Here’s what you can do:
- Contact council members and inform them you want a public process for selecting a new city attorney
- Contact the mayor’s office and inform her of the same thing