The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 11, 2013

Discussion continues on plan for future vacancy of mayor’s seat

Beckley Common Council

By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

RONCEVERTE — Since Councilman Tom Sopher passed out a proposal on the process last month, discussion has sparked about electing an interim mayor to fill what will be a vacant position after Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh retires at the end of 2013.

“I think we do need to have a plan. If my proposal isn’t exactly how everybody would like, I’d like for us to start a discussion anyway on how we should move forward on this,” said Sopher at Tuesday night’s Beckley Common Council meeting.

Councilman Chris Hall laid out an alternative to Sopher’s proposal that he believes to be more appropriate and avoids issues created by workshops.

Hall does not believe that council members interested in the position should be able to interview those outside of council who have expressed interest in the mayor’s position.

He also believes that the process should be prolonged a bit to avoid controversy.

“You can’t fill a vacancy until one occurs. The mayor isn’t going anywhere until Jan. 1,” Hall said.

“Once you put things in motion, it could lead to some inevitable division as folks jockey for the job, both on council and members of the public,” he said.

His proposal suggests delaying the process and accepting letters of interest from potential candidates outlining their qualifications and vision for Beckley during a two-week period between Oct. 15 and Oct. 31. Those who have already expressed an interest will resubmit an application during that time period.

Hall believes that Sopher should be the point person to receive applications since he has expressed no interest in the position of mayor.

“This is a responsibility of council to make this decision,” Hall said.

His plan also suggested that at the close of the two-week period, Sopher would copy and distribute the letters of interest to all council members for consideration.

Councilman-at-Large Tim Berry said he believes Hall’s plan is overcomplicated.

“Past council has made it really simple,” Berry said. “They’ve selected from council and then the councilman that became mayor was replaced after the new mayor took office.

“We are the elected officials here. We’re the ones who campaigned and we’re the ones who garnered the votes of the public. That’s why we sit where we sit. I am uncomfortable awarding the keys to the mayor’s office to someone who has never campaigned or put forth the money,” Berry said.

Berry believes that the mayor, as in the past, should be appointed by council to fulfill the remainder of the term, which will be roughly 2.5 years.

Berry, along with Sopher, feels that a workshop should be held just to discuss whether the new mayor should be selected from council or if public applications should be accepted.

Councilwoman Ann Worley said that she tends to agree with Berry, that it should be decided by council first whether they will be selecting from within council or accepting applicants from outside.

Hall disagreed, saying that the process of accepting applications may help solve the dilemma.

“Until you allow people to express their interest you can’t make that decision on which direction to go,” said Hall.

“I have faith that everyone on this council will vote with their conscious and do what they think is best for this city and the future,” said Hall.

So far, three community members and two council members have expressed interest in the mayor position. Members of council interested include Worley and Councilman-at-large Cedric Robertson.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com