Change of government on agenda for next council meeting

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By David Meade

During a worksession held Tuesday, two members of Williamston Town Council and the mayor discussed upcoming agenda items and how to improve communications. Attending the meeting were Councilmembers Otis Scott and Tony Hagood, Mayor Mack Durham and MASC Field Services Manager Jeff Shaker.

Mayor Durham said he is making an effort to improve communications with council. Durham said he is keeping mayor pro-tem David Harvell updated on projects and issues facing the town and is meeting with council members individually.

Durham said communications with Harvell are also being forwarded to other council members via email.

Communication between the council and mayor has been a point of contention for awhile, so much so that some members of council are pushing for a change in the form of government the town operates under to give council more authority.

Councilmembers Otis Scott, David Harvell and Rockey Burgess have all said they would like to see the town go to the council-mayor form of government, giving council more authority in the day to day operations of the town.

Williamston currently operates under the strong mayor form of government in which the mayor makes executive decisions in day to day operations of the town and hiring.

Shaker said that in most cases he has seen where either form of government works best when council members and the mayor recognize that governing is a team sport.

Shaker said the strong mayor form of government works best when the mayor involves council on the front end. He said under the council form, the mayor often takes a more vocal role to get things done and both work best when there is an effort to “soften the edges” of responsibility.

Shaker stressed that in either form of government, communication is important.

The issue of changing the form of government will be addressed at the next meeting of Council on April 6. Second reading on an election ordinance to hold a referendum on the issues is expected to be on the agenda and voted on by council.

Durham said he opposes changing the form of government and stated that he wold like to see the issue postponed so that it doesn’t interfere with other projects and issues the town is facing.

“There is a lot going on in town,” Durham said, pointing out that the town is starting a trail project, upcoming events, in the process of finding a new Main Street Program director and beginning the budget process for 2015-16.

“There are a lot of things that are fragile, in their infancy, that need continuity,” the mayor said.

Durham said if the issue is to be addressed he would like to see it at the appropriate time and not in a hurried way, preferably in conjunction with a general election, to be able to ask “most voters how they feel about it.”

If the issue goes to a referendum vote and passes, the strong council form of government will be in effect for four years.

Other issues to be addressed at the upcoming meeting include wayfinding signs for Main Street, a fair housing resolution, changes in the wrecker/towing ordinance and funding for installation of new toddler playground equipment in Mineral Spring Park.

Durham said council will consider changing wording in the towing ordinance to require wrecker services requested which are not on the town’s rotating tow list to have a town business license and that towing fees be set the same as Highway Patrol towing fees.

Installation cost for the toddler playground equipment will be $5000. Senator Billy O’Dell has committed $3000 toward the project, Durham said, leaving $2000 for the town to come up with.

Councilman Scott said he will contact County Council District 7 Representative Cindy Wilson to see if she could help secure funds for the project.

The next meeting of council will be held at 6 pm. Monday, April 6.