CHAPEL HILL – Political change is in the air in Orange County.
Tonight, the Chapel Hill Town Council will declare a vacancy and begin the process to replace Councilwoman Penny Rich who was expected to resign her seat Sunday so that she can join the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Rich will be one of three new commissioners sworn in tonight during a ceremony from 6 to 7 p.m., at the Central Orange Senior Center in Hillsborough.
The swearing-in will proceed a regular meeting of the board.
Rich will be joined by Mark Dorosin and Renee Price, who were also elected to serve on the board in November.
Board Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier was re-elected in November and will also be sworn in.
The board has already said good-bye to three colleagues, including two who lost primary races in May.
Commissioners Pam Hemminger and Steve Yuhasz lost their primary races and the third, Valerie Foushee, won a State House seat.
Meanwhile, Rich’s official resignation opens the door for the Town Council to start looking for someone to replace her.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt is proposing a Jan. 7 deadline for candidates to file applications for appointment.
The proposal also calls for council to review applications and make nominations a week later at its Jan. 14 business meeting. That meeting would start and hour earlier at 6 p.m., to give applicants a chance to make brief remarks.
Council would consider making an appointment Jan. 23 at a special meeting that would precede public hearings. The applicant chosen would be sworn in at the council’s Jan. 28 meeting.
So far, five candidates have publicly stated interest in the vacancy. They include former councilwoman Sally Greene, who decided not to seek re-election in 2011; Maria Palmer, a minister; mortgage lender Jon DeHart; Planning Board member Amy Ryan; and Southern Village resident Gary Kahn.
George Cianciolo, one of the co-chairs of the Chapel Hill 2020 process that will guide growth and development for the next 20 years, was considered a leading candidate for the seat.
He changed his mind after he learned former councilwoman Sally Greene is throwing her hat into the ring.
Cianciolo agrees with some other town leaders that the appointment should go to a woman because Rich’s departure will leave the nine member council with only two females, Donna Bell and Laurin Easthom.
Next month, Carrboro will likely start dealing with a vacancy on its Board of Aldermen.
Longtime board member Dan Coleman will be stepping down in January to move to Australia.