In a low-turnout August special election, the city of Hillsdale filled two vacant council seats and renewed the 911 operating surcharge.
Write-in Cynthia Pratt won the Ward 2 seat because there were no other nominating petitions filed for that seat. Tony Vear, the only Ward 1 candidate, won unanimously with 57 votes. Both councilmembers will serve partial terms that officially expire January 1, 2021.
The turnout rate was expected to be only 12 – 20% but was even lower in actuality. Wards 1 and 2 had turnout rates of 6.45% and 4.29%, respectively. Only four county precincts hit double-digit turnout rates for the 911 surcharge vote.
On the morning of the election, poll worker Olivia Jones said most of the Ward 1 voters were friends of Vear who came out to show their support.
Vear will fill the seat from which former councilman Brian Watkins resigned in March 2018 due to schedule conflicts with his travel-heavy work commitments for Toyota.
There had been a previous election for the position in the spring of 2019, but the winner, Peter Jennings, was declared ineligible because he did not meet the residency requirement.
Vear also served as a Ward 1 councilman about 10 years ago. He compared his experience to that of a sophomore in college, saying that he is familiar with the work after already completing a “freshman” term.
“I think that I am prepared because I know the mode of operation and how the council works,” he said. “It’s like how your first year of college is experimenting. And then in your sophomore year, you’re more prepared — you know how things run.”
Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford said he believes the experience will make Vear “a great addition” to this council.
“I think he’ll be able to jump in headfirst and get down to work,” Stockford said.
Vear, who is a 1982 alum of Hillsdale College, has lived in Hillsdale since his middle school years when his father became the college physician. After Watkins resigned and the first elected successor was ineligible, Vear stepped up to meet the community’s need.
“I felt the people of Ward 1 needed representation. The council has been lacking a full council for over a year,” Vear said. “And I like to serve.”
Vear needed more than 50% of the votes as an official nominee, and he received 100%.
Because there was no nominee for Ward 2, any write-in needed only one vote to win the seat. It is unknown how many votes Pratt received, but the ward had 42 election day voting ballots cast and Pratt was the only valid write-in among them.
Pratt said she was not very surprised by her election because she had to fill out paperwork at City Hall the previous week to make her eligible for a write-in — and she only needed one vote. “I was pretty excited because I thought for sure there would be at least another write-in.”
Stockford also said write-ins happen “fairly frequently in the city,” especially in recent memory.
Pratt said that working on the council will be new to her, but she is eager to learn and serve the people of Hillsdale.
“I want to hear what the people want and then bring it to the board to discuss. I want people to feel free to call or email me with their concerns because I want to do the best I can for them.”
Stockford expressed confidence that Pratt would “be able to navigate the demands of the council” since she served with the Davis School District for 24 years. Until her retirement in 2012, Pratt worked with students who had behavioral issues.
Pratt will fill the Ward 2 seat from which former councilman Timothy Dixon resigned in October 2018. Dixon moved to a home outside the city limits and was no longer eligible to serve on the council due to residency requirements.
The citizens of Hillsdale also voted to continue the 911 surcharge through 2026. As declared in Michigan state law, residents voted on a charge rate set by the county board of commissioners. The voters granted the same permission they have in the two previous terms, allowing the fee — which is currently $2.50 per month per phone — to reach a max of $3 per month per phone.
Hillsdale County Central Dispatch Doug Sanford said the renewal of the fee allows the county of Hillsdale to maintain 911 immediate response services.
“The telephone charge is the primary funding source for 911 services, so the passing of the surcharge allows the 911 service in Hillsdale County to continue.”