Williamston Council proposes change in form of government

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By David Meade

During their meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council was drawn into a discussion about changing the town’s form of government. Council went into executive session two times during the meeting, taking up approximately half of the three hour meeting. The first behind closed door session was to discuss a contract and economic development issue. There was no detailed explanation given for either issue. Upon returning to open session, Councilman Otis Scott made a motion to amend the agenda to change the town’s form of government. Councilman David Harvell seconded the motion. That led to a lengthy discussion and a second executive session.

In his first meeting as the town’s new attorney, attorney Lee Cole offered advise on the issue. Cole stated that changing the form of government can be done by petition or by an ordinance by council.

After additional discussion, Cole stated there was a motion to amend the agenda, and if approved, a motion would have to be made to change to another form of government. He explained that the change would have to be approved by voters with a referendum which would be held within a specified time frame after second reading of the ordinance.

Councilman Scott said he wanted “to give the citizens of Williamston the opportunity to change it if they want to.”

Councilman Tony Hagood then made a motion to table the issue.

Hagood’s motion, seconded by the Mayor Mack Durham, was not approved. Only the mayor voted with Hagood to table. Councilmen Rockey Burgess, David Harvell and Otis Scott all voted not to table discussion.

Scott then repeated his motion to amend the agenda to change to form of governement on to consider it first reading.

The motion passed with Scott, Harvell and Burgess voting in favor. Durham and Hagood were opposed.

During discussion, Scott said he wanted to form of government to be changed to the strong council, weak mayor form. “Council needs to be involved in the things being done,” he said.

Cole explained the three forms of government that could be considered.

He said the strong mayor form of government the town currently operates under gives executive power to the mayor and legislative power to the council.

A second option is a strong council form in which the council has executive and legislative powers with the mayor acting as chairman.

A third option is the council-manager form of government which give certain duties to the administrator or manager.

At the advice of the town attorney, Council then went into the second secret session of the night, lasting for about an hour, to receive legal advice on the issue.

Upon returning to open session, Council voted 4-1 with the mayor opposed, to vote on an ordinance to change the form of government, to be announced, at the Sept. 8 meeting of council.

Two ordinance options will be presented.

Council also unanimously agreed to hold a work session on the issue next Monday at 7 p.m.

Williamston residents voted down an effort to change the form of government several years ago during the administration of former mayor Phillip Clardy.

Council tabled four items on the agenda under new business including: discussion on giving a water credit to town residents and businesses; discuss sending out RFP’s to qualified lawn care businesses for nuisance abatement; concerns about Gray Drive bridge; and Scout Hut concerns, Gossett Drive and museum space for the Williamston Area Historic Commission.