(Expanded version with council comments)
By David Meade
Williamston voters handily decided in Tuesday’s referendum they want to keep the current Mayor-Council or strong mayor form of government the town currently operates under, voting more than two to one to keep it. A total of 351 voted no and with 148 voting yes. Of the Williamston Precinct voters, 236 said no, 93 yes. Calvary precinct vote was closer but still just under two to one with 94 saying no, to 53 yes. Of 23 total absentee votes, 21 said no and only 2 said yes to the change. (All totals are uncertified)
Williamston will continue to operate under the strong mayor form of government in which the mayor makes executive decisions in day to day operations of the town and hiring.
(Photo – Williamston Mayor Mack Durham and wife Sharon make notes during the change in the form of government election ballot count Tuesday evening.)
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham said there was excellent voter turnout for an election held in June and was obviously pleased with the results.
“We finally heard the voice of the community on this issue instead of just the three councilmembers,” he said. “I hope I can find as much approval with the council as I obviously have with the community.”
Durham said, “Our town needs to continue moving forward and can only do that with the voice and representation of the people.”
Durham said he wants to work with council and to have them work with him pointing to the community plan the town is currently in the process of developing with input from the community and other projects the town is involved in.
Durham, who is serving the second year of his first four year term at mayor said, “I believe this vote heralds the end of the good old boys in Williamston.”
Three of the town’s councilmenbers favored changing the form of government to the Council form.
Councilman Otis Scott said he was disappointed in the way it turned out but he could still work with the mayor. “The people voice their opinion in what they wanted. They made the decision. We will have to see how it works out.”
Scott said the three councimembers who supported the change still formed a majority and the mayor would have to work with them.
“I can work with anybody,” Scott said. “But when it comes to spending public money without council say-so, that’s where I draw the line.”
Scott said council “should be informed in how the money is spent.”
Scott said one thing he may look into is a change in the purchasing policy which currently allows the mayor to spend up to $10,000 without council approval.
Councilman David Harvell also supported the change in the form of government. Harvell said he was surprised that the no vote was so strong. “It was shocking to me,” he said. “We have to live with it and work with the mayor the best we can.” Harvell said that direct communication from the mayor to him, and then relaying on to other councilmembers has helped some.
Councilman Rockey Burgess said, “I’m obviously disappointed. It is what it is, but it is not the end of the world by any means.”
Burgess said that more communication from the mayor has helped tremendously and he is hoping it continues. “If that continues and we are informed and a part of the process, then I don’t see a problem.”
Burgess said unilateral decisions by one person is a problem. “If he does that we will have to revisit the ordinances and policies to see what we can do.”