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Special election likely to happen this fall to fill Columbia First Ward council seat


This will be the last week in office for First Ward city councilman Nick Knoth after residents voted to recall him in Tuesday's election.

The recall results will be final upon certification by the Boone County Clerk on Friday afternoon. Then, the ward will have to wait for a special election to get another representative.

City spokesperson Sydney Olsen said a special election is likely to take place in August.

"Per our city charter, if there's a vacancy on council that exceeds one year, we have to call for a special election," Olsen said. "Realistically, given the timeline in place, that's likely not going to happen before August."

The timeline is ultimately up to the city council.

In a March 18 city council meeting, city attorney Nancy Thompson said it's "highly unlikely" a special election could be called before the primary election in August, but the timeline could be shortened to elect someone in July. The timeline could also be extended and a special election could be pushed into late August or September.

"Ultimately, the council will make that decision," Thompson said. "There is a special election that gets called, and at that point in time we would bring to the council a proposed timeline to accept nominating petitions."

Olsen said there will be more discussion about this over the next few weeks, with the topic likely coming up at the next council meeting on April 15. She said the city wants to ensure enough time for potential candidates to work on petitions and for the Boone County Clerk to get the election set up.

In the meantime, the first ward will have no representation on the council.

The city's charter states, "If a majority of those voting in such recall election shall vote in favor of the recall, then a vacancy shall exist, regardless of any defect in the recall petition."

Olsen said this makes the special election a priority for the city.

"The whole point of council is for a voice to be there to represent constituents and to represent their needs, so we know there's going to be a gap," Olsen said. " ... I think right now the focus is getting that done as soon as we can, most likely with the limitations that are in place so that we can have representation for our First Ward residents."

Council members agree.

"There's nobody sitting on a council representing First Ward," said Ward 5 city councilman Don Waterman. "So, for that reason, there's a bit of urgency to it. But, we want to do it correctly."

Once a special election does take place, the person elected will fill the First Ward council seat until the end of Knoth's term in April 2026.

Knoth has been recalled due to his job as a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors. The group Recall Nick Knoth said housing issues are important to the First Ward and believes his day job presented a direct conflict of interest with his duties as a councilman.

Fifty-seven percent of First Ward voters cast ballots in favor of the recall on Tuesday, with 43% voting no.

This is the first time a Columbia city council member has been successfully recalled since 1990. The Missouri Municipal League said recall votes like this are rare in Missouri, with Columbia's city charter allowing for the vote and calling for the special election.

"Here in Missouri, that recall is only automatically triggered in home-ruled charter cities and third class cities, which is really just our larger cities," said Stuart Haynes, MML Administration and Policy Director. "Maybe 100 out of the 900 cities in Missouri have those provisions."

He said in third class cities, the city council would usually fill the vacancy themselves. However, Columbia's charter calls for a special election.

First Ward residents who organized the recall vote said Tuesday there is no one specific in mind to take Knoth's place.

"We didn't have somebody that we stood behind because it didn't seem right to us," said Sarah Medcalf. "We really wanted to focus on the matter at hand: there's a conflict of interest. Now, it's just a matter of who's going to step up. I don't think that we will be short on any choices."

"It will be our job to find a candidate from the First Ward who speaks to our concerns and would represent the First Ward specifically," said Laura Mitchell.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia City Government

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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