The Novi City Council holds its first meeting following the Nov. 7 election at the Novi Civic Center Nov. 20.

The Novi City Council holds its first meeting following the Nov. 7 election at the Novi Civic Center Nov. 20.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Novi City Council to interview candidates for open seat

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published December 6, 2023


NOVI — Justin Fischer’s election as mayor has left a vacancy on the Novi City Council, which, according to the city charter, must be filled by a council appointee within 30 days or otherwise will require a special election.

Fischer and the other City Council members debated how to best fill the vacancy Nov. 20 during the first meeting for the council since the Nov. 7 election.

The Novi city charter does not include any specific method that the council is to use to appoint a person to the council. In recent years, the council has chosen to have interested candidates  formally apply for the position, and then the council interviewed the candidates publicly during a meeting.

This was done for vacancies that occurred in 2009, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2019 and 2020. During those years, the number of applicants ranged from four to 13. Each time a vacancy occurred, the city published a notice in the newspaper two weeks before the date set for interviews for interested people to apply. According to city officials, this method provides a clear and open process that meets the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

There is also no set method for voting on the candidates. In each of the six previous appointments, city officials said, the vote was done by written ballot as opposed to a voice motion and vote, as signed ballots are public record.   

“There are three of us who have been through the application-vacancy process before: Mayor Pro Tem (Laura Marie Casey), Council member (David) Staudt and myself. And we’ve been through this process several times, appointing people in 2009, ’10, ’14, ’18, ’19, ’20. We followed a certain process, and city staff have come to me and was prepared to go ahead and move forward in that direction,” said Fischer.

Casey said she has been through the process four times and agreed that following the appointment process is an appropriate way to fill the council seat. She said many people come forward each time with interest in the council.

“I think our process is fair. There is an interview process. There is an application process. So I’m generally in favor of us continuing to follow the process that previous councils have followed,” said Casey.

Councilman Brian Smith said that all the recent appointments to fill vacant council seats were for 12 months or less, and none of the vacancies occurred immediately after an election. Smith suggested that instead of using the interview process, the council use the results of the recent election to put the person who had the fourth-highest number of votes, Sujata Raman, into office.

“This time we have a pretty clear indication of what the voters wanted, and I feel that warrants a different approach,” said Smith.

Smith made a motion in favor of Raman and was seconded by Councilwoman Ericka Thomas.

“I feel like the voters just gave us an ordered list in the order that they would want them,” Thomas said. “In my opinion, the hardest job interview that you can do is to run for office. It is very difficult to put yourself out there. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of talking to people. It takes a commitment. You go through interviews. You go through candidate forums. It’s the hardest thing that you can do, and that shows a commitment and a dedication to your community when you are willing to put yourself through that, and I find it very difficult to think that we could make a better choice with a short interview process here.”

Thomas also said that Raman is an Indian American woman and would bring representation to the large and underrepresented community of Indian Americans living in the city.

“I feel like it does matter. I wouldn’t bring someone in simply because of that reason, but with all the other things stated — the work that was done and the fact that all of the clear public support — we have 5,600-some people came out and voted, and she was the next person in line. I think that that representation and the voice of our community matters. So I say we listen to the voters and we consider going to the next person. I don’t think the six of us can make a better decision than what the people have already told us,” Thomas said.

Newly elected Council member Matt Heintz agreed with Thomas and Smith. He said that to go though the interview process seemed “a bit much.” He said it didn’t seem right for six people to cast their votes for the new council member when 12,000 did in the recent election.

“The voice of the people is very important to listen to. For me running for City Council, what I ran for was to listen — listen to the voters, listen to the residents,” Heintz said. “So it’s very important to really weigh just the value of us passing six votes or really listening to the 12,000 votes that were just passed. So I think it’s really important that we appoint Sujata Raman, as she was just recently the fourth-highest vote-getter. … I’d like to think that all of us in these positions are listening to the voters and following the guidance of what they are wanting and what they are interested in.”

The council was deadlocked on the vote, with three council members, Smith, Thomas and Heintz, voting to appoint Raman, and three council members, Casey, Fischer and Staudt, voting against it. The council then took a vote to initiate the interview process. This passed by a vote of 4-2, with Smith as the deciding vote to approve the interview process. The majority of public comments at the meeting favored appointing Raman.

“I appreciate the support of the community,” Raman said. “I’m very humbled by it and I’m not going to lie: I’m disappointed by the decision of the council because I think that we just had an election, and I think it was Council member Thomas who said that an application and interview process is fine if you don’t have election results immediately available, and we do. So I am disappointed that the council thinks they should substitute their voices for those of the voters. But that’s their decision, I guess.”

Raman said she was not sure if she would be applying for the seat, as it is a decision for her and her family.

The council made a public announcement via email and on its website Nov. 27 asking people to apply for council. The applications were accepted until Dec. 6. The council plans to interview candidates during its Dec. 11 meeting and is expected to appoint someone to the council during its Dec. 18 meeting.