ITHACA, N.Y.—Former Alderperson Donna Fleming was approved to fill a looming vacancy on the City of Ithaca’s Common Council on Wednesday. City officials said she was the only person to apply to fill the vacancy and represent the city’s 3rd Ward. 

The empty seat on council is being created by the departure of Alderperson Jeffrey Barken in the city’s 3rd Ward. Barken’s resignation is scheduled for June 30. He was elected to fill a two year term for the years 2022 and 2023. 

Alderperson Rob Gearhart, who represents the 3rd Ward and sat on the search committee to fill the coming vacancy on Common Council, said Wednesday, “I can share that Donna was the only application that we received by the deadline. In fact, the only applicant we received at all. And so I think we’re fortunate to have someone with — who values public service and experience to fill out a six month vacancy.”

Fleming served on Common Council for a decade from 2012 through 2021. She told The Ithaca Voice in an interview that she feels motivated — even eager — to rejoin the city’s governing body.

Fleming said she applied because “I just felt a strong sense of duty, and I feel like I’m qualified. I have experience, I can contribute, I believe in service, and I wouldn’t be lying to say I’m eager.”

When a vacancy occurs or is set to occur on Common Council, the process followed to fill it is similar to that of a firm seeking to fill an empty position. A selection committee is formed, which includes the Mayor of Ithaca, an Alderperson of the Mayor’s choosing, and the other Alderperson in the ward in which the vacancy has been created — there are two representatives on Common Council for each of the city’s five wards.

The city opened up the application process on May 15 for candidates seeking to fill the vacancy that would be left by Barken on Common Council. 

Common Council’s discussion was brief leading up to the vote to appoint Fleming to fill the vacancy, and the vote appeared frictionless. Fleming was approved 9 – 0. Alderperson Phoebe Brown was absent from the session.

The issues that Fleming said she will be giving her focus to are the high level hires that need to be made by the city, like the search for Ithaca’s first city manager and a police chief for the Ithaca Police Department, as well as the city budget, which will be proposed, discussed, amended, and voted on over the coming months

Asked if she’s considering campaigning for public office in the future, Fleming said, “It’s really hard to picture my running for office again, let me say that.” Then Fleming added, “I’m not saying never, but it’s hard to imagine.”

At the same time, Fleming expressed that she feels her perspective is a needed one on council.

“I know the drill and I really think I can help out. And I think I developed a reputation for asking good questions, and being respectful, and being moderate, and calm, and navigating relationships — and I think that’s especially important right now,” Fleming said.

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn