By Wendy Holdren
After Councilman Tom Sopher proposed a series of workshops to assist Beckley Common Council in selecting an interim mayor, other members are split on whether the position should be open to the public or filled by a current council member.
“My proposal is a way we can openly select the proper person for the job,” Sopher said.
“I hope we can all agree to at least have the first workshop and go from there. If we don’t entertain our option of including the public in this process, are we serving the community in a responsible manner?”
Councilwoman Ann Worley said she believes this is the first decision council must make — whether to stay within council to seek a replacement for the mayor.
“I have made it known up-front to all council members by a letter that I am interested in filling the unexpired term of mayor.”
She said she sent an e-mail to council members Aug. 9, asking essentially the same question Sopher asked.
“Therefore, I feel that his proposal is timely. We need to work amongst ourselves to determine a timetable. Whether it be September, October or November, we need to have a plan in place so all council members are on the same page.”
If council seeks resumes from the public, Worley said she is OK with that.
“It has always been important to me that our citizens have the best representation.”
Councilman-at-large Cedric Robertson said that he will also be seeking the position and added, “I feel it is inappropriate for me to participate in the selection process.”
Beckley’s other councilman-at-large, Tim Berry, however, feels strongly that the interim mayor should be a current council member.
“I will only support the appointment of a current member of Common Council to finish the unexpired term of the mayor. This is what the last Common Council did when replacing a mayor, which happened to be Mayor Pugh in 1988.”
Berry said his reasoning is simple: “There is only 2.5 years remaining when the new mayor is appointed. Current members of Common Council are aware of the situations that the City of Beckley is dealing with now and in the future.”
Councilman Ron Booker agrees.
“Although there may be a citizen who may successfully fulfill the duties as an interim mayor, my primary concerns are organizational change and development,” Booker explained. “Presently, I have a great desire in appointing a present member of council to the position of mayor, due to previous leadership decisions and issues which need organizationally restructured.”
He also noted that he does not support Sopher’s proposal for the mayoral selection process “because it needs to be more concise with more objectivity and less subjectivity.”
Booker said that council members are the only people who have the authority to appoint a new mayor.
“Having noncouncil members involved in the selection process is irrelevant and provides an opportunity for retaliation and favoritism.”
He said he is open to discussing the mayoral position with any applicant, but will only do so in a private meeting, in order “to prevent an uncomfortable and conflicting environment for any applicant.”
Councilman Chris Hall also said he cannot support Sopher’s proposal, although it was well-intended.
“The cooperation between the mayor and council members has been exceptionally strong over the past two months,” Hall said. “Because of the current level of teamwork, I believe September is far too early to begin evaluating candidates to replace Mayor Pugh. Once council begins a formalized process to seek a replacement, divisive campaigning by both council members and the public is inevitable. Such jockeying and division is not in the best interest of a productive and cooperative work environment and should be delayed as long as possible.”
He also is concerned with the fact that several council members have expressed interested in the position.
“I think it is highly inappropriate to set up a selection process that would allow members of council to publicly interview and quiz their competition for the job.”
He said council should avoid a process “absent of substance and created largely for show.”
“Instead, we should focus on having candid, meaningful and substantive discussions on an individual basis with qualified candidates.”
Hall does, however, agree with Sopher that a wide net should be cast when looking for a mayoral replacement.
“We should allow both council members and the public the opportunity to express their interest in the position and be considered for the job.”
He suggests accepting letters of interest, containing qualifications and vision statements, between Oct. 15 and 31.
“Since Councilman Sopher has expressed no interest in the position of mayor, I believe the letters of interest should be directed to his attention at City Hall.”
He said council would then have two full months to review the letters, after being collected by Sopher, and then schedule times to meet individually with each of the most qualified candidates.
During the Dec. 10 council meeting, City Attorney Bill File and other officials could then explain the appropriate process for the selection of the new mayor, at a special council meeting, which Hall proposes should be held Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.
Sopher said he knows that some council members feel strongly that the new mayor should be of the current council, but he feels differently.
“The people that put us in office chose us to represent their wards, but not necessarily be their mayor. We are trying to hire a mayor/city manager. Is this a job any one of us can do? Good question. Let’s be honest, I think we can do better. I try my best to have the City of Beckley’s interest at heart.”
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