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Paul Durham resigning from Tucson City Council

Tucson City Councilman Paul Durham, who has not attended most Council meetings since August due to family and personal health issues, has tendered his resignation, effective March 1.

Durham cracked several ribs last summer, and his husband, Philippe Waterinckx, has been undergoing treatment for terminal cancer for months.

Durham, a Democrat representing the Northwest Side and a stretch of the North Side extending east to Swan Road, submitted a letter of resignation on Monday.

"Representing the constituents of Ward 3 has been a profound privilege. However, in order to attend to personal matters, I am now compelled to resign," he wrote to Mayor Regina Romero and City Clerk Roger Randolph, sending it also to the other members of the Council.

"I wanted to advise you of my resignation now so that you can begin to take the steps necessary to fill my office once it becomes vacant on March 1," he said.

Durham was elected in 2017, and his term was set to expire after this year's municipal elections. Now, the City Council will appoint a person from Ward 3 to serve out the balance of the term.

Durham had been absent from City Council meetings for months, having last participated on August 11. He announced in mid-September that he would "step back from my duties on a temporary basis" due to a recent injury and his husband's illness.

Although Durham did not publicly detail his injuries, city sources indicated that he had cracked his ribs in an incident at home before taking leave.

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Durham told the public at the time that Waterinckx, his husband, was undergoing "aggressive treatment for terminal cancer."

The Democrat began attending meetings again in December, but missed the meetings and study sessions of the Council after the first meeting in August through December 18.

Mayor Romero said she thanked Durham for his service to the city. "Paul has been a dedicated advocate for the residents of Ward 3 and has truly exemplified what it means to be a public servant," she wrote.

"I am grateful for his leadership on issues ranging from climate action to affordable housing and will miss his voice on the Council," Romero said in a news release. "I know this must have been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and I ask our community to join me in thanking him for his service to Tucsonans and respecting his privacy at this time."

"Serving as your elected representative is one of the highlights of my life," Durham said in an email announcement Monday afternoon. "I thank you for your support. I ask that you welcome my successor with the compassion and commitment that you have shown during my time in office."

Although Durham has not taken part in many Council meetings, his staff has kept his ward office functioning during his leave.

Under the Tucson City Charter, any member of the Council who is absent more than 30 days can have their seat declared vacant, triggering the appointment process.

Romero has announced at meetings since September that Durham's absence has been "excused." The Council has been meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Durham wrote that he's "hopeful that this advance notice will help provide continuity in the representation of the Ward 3 constituents. During these next few weeks, I will wrap up some matters at the office, and I will continue to carry out my duties as councilmember."

"Councilmember Durham's letter of resignation speaks for itself, and the City Manager's Office will not be making any further comment on it other than to say that we all thank Paul for his service to our community," said Lane Mandle, chief of staff to City Manager Mike Ortega.

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Councilman Steve Kozachik told TucsonSentinel.com that he has "enjoyed working with Paul for the past few years."

"People sometimes don't realize how time-consuming and demanding these jobs can be," Kozachik said. "It's all important and worthwhile stuff, but when you're trying to also juggle personal issues, it can become overwhelming. I totally respect Paul for making this decision. He and Philippe will now be able to fully focus on some very priority issues they're wrestling with. Paul can step away knowing he has served the constituents of Ward 3 honorably."

The replacement for Durham will be the first Council appointment since Councilman Paul Cunningham was named to fill the Ward 2 seat left vacant when Rodney Glassman resigned to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

The City Charter requires that the person chosen by the Council be a registered voter who lives in Ward 3. While there is no requirement that the new councilmember be of the same political party as the person being replaced (the sitting Council is all-Democratic), tradition has been to chose someone who is of the same party as the person who was elected.

In 2010, the city asked for applications, and 11 people sought the appointment, including several Republicans. They were each provided the opportunity to briefly address the Council during a public meeting, and Cunningham was chosen.

The wrinkle in this appointment process is that it's unclear how long the new member of the Council will hold office. Under city election law, an election that includes Ward 3 is set for this year. But the Republican-led state Legislature passed a law to push elections in Tucson and other cities into even-numbered years, to coincide with state and federal elections, despite the mandate in the City Charter to hold elections in odd-numbered years.

A court ruling is set to decide the issue. If the city's position is upheld, the Council elections in Wards 3, 5 and 6 will continue this year. If the state law is found to override the city's election laws, those officeholders will continue through the elections of 2022.

Durham said in his letter that he wanted to "thank my Ward 3 staff for the extraordinary work that they do every day."

"I also thank my colleagues on the mayor and Council, each of whom is copied with this letter, for your friendship and leadership," he said. "And I thank all city employees for their service to our community."

"But most of all, I thank my husband Philippe, for everything," Durham wrote.

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Durham, left, and Waterinckx show support for anti-domestic violence programs by wearing purple in an October 2020 photo.