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Add one more election to the season
Flowery Branch residents now to vote in Sept. 21, Nov. 2 special elections, and may have one more
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Listen to part of a discussion during Wednesday’s Flowery Branch City Council meeting concerning a special election to replace Mayor Diane Hirling.

Flowery Branch began the year with a group of freshly elected council members and no scheduled elections.

Much has changed in the past five months.

A City Council vote Wednesday morning will, in effect, have city residents voting in two special elections to replace a former councilman and soon-departing mayor. Also, two qualifying periods have been scheduled to gather candidates in both races.

The year’s political changes began unfolding Jan. 21 when Councilman Craig Lutz announced he would seek the District 1 seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

He resigned at the April 15 meeting, saying he intended to qualify for the post later in the month.

The city voted last week to set the special election to replace Lutz for Sept. 21 and hold qualifying June 21-25 at City Hall, 5517 Main St. One resident, Chris Strickland, a Gwinnett County teacher, announced earlier that he would seek the seat.

Then, on Monday, Mayor Diane Hirling, who was re-elected without opposition in November to her second four-year term as mayor, announced she was stepping down from her post as she and her husband, Bob, are retiring to Florida.

Her resignation becomes effective Monday.

City Council went into Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall with an ordinance calling for the special election and qualifying dates to coincide with those to fill Lutz’s seat.

Councilman Chris Fetterman asked City Attorney Richard A. Carothers about a city charter requirement that City Council must have at least three council members and a mayor or acting mayor to conduct business.

“We could possibly not have a functioning government if someone from our current council wants to run for mayor. Is that correct?”

“I think that is true,” he said. “... There would be no legal quorum under the charter.”

Council ended up voting on first reading to hold the special election replacing Hirling on Nov. 2 and setting qualifying for Sept. 27-29.

Councilman Mike Miller, the mayor pro tem, abstained from the vote, saying afterward, “It is my intention to run for mayor.”

Under the old dates, the city would have lacked a quorum for three months if Miller quit to qualify for mayor. The council would have been down to Fetterman, Kris Yardley and Tara Richards.

The council didn’t discuss the possibility of a special election to replace Miller if he decides to quit to run for mayor. Contacted Wednesday night, Hirling said she would need to consult further with City Manager Bill Andrew on that matter but that a third special election might be needed.

City Council had planned to meet at 6 tonight to give its final OK to the special election for mayor.

But because the election isn’t until November, the city is no longer under a time constraint for official public notification, and the issue now will come up at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting on June 3, City Clerk Melissa McCain said.

That meeting is set for 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Lutz’s immediate political future will be determined in a July 20 primary. He faces incumbent Bobby Banks and fellow challenger Robert “Kim” Senter in the Republican race for the commission seat.