Tony Vear and Cynthia Pratt elected city council members. Col­legian | Julia Mullins

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.”