Ray, a former Pickens county chief magistrate judge, was sworn into office as the leader of the small Cherokee-Pickens town Monday night after he won the job with 88 votes in an unopposed race Nov. 5.
Now that he’s at the helm, the 67-year-old Nelson native says he wants to play peacekeeper in the conflicts that have often thrust the tiny city of about 1,300 residents into the public eye.
“We’ve had a lot of problems as far as the mayor and city council,” Ray said Friday. “It’s been an ongoing situation, and I’d like to see that come to an end. No more business than we have to transact, that’s just a bad reflection on the city.”
Nelson’s mayors and councils have conflicted through the years over what authorities the mayor should have and what should fall under the authority of the council or the city manager.
Last May, then-Mayor Mike Haviland submitted his sudden resignation to the city, citing the council’s attempts to “remove or transfer” the powers of the office of mayor as part of his reasoning. Haviland’s predecessor David Leister also differed with the city council on authorities of the mayor when he fired the police chief, who the council then re-hired.
Ray doesn’t plan on any such disagreements in his time in office. He said if the city prefers more of a ceremonial mayor, that’s what he’ll be.
“If that’s what they want to do,” Ray said. “Whatever they want to do.”
He also hopes to bring an end to disagreements between the city’s new and old residents.
“There’s two different factions: the old town and the new town,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of friction between the two of them, so hopefully we’re going to be able to do away with it.”
But there are a few things Ray isn’t interested in doing away with, namely the city itself, which some have suggested abolishing altogether.
“I was born and raised here. I’d hate to see the city go away,” he said. “I’ve got some good memories and, properly run, it can be a real service to people that live in Nelson. I’d just really hate to see us even think about closing down the city.”
Ray also hopes the city will keep its police department, which has been a subject of debate. The police department has been unstaffed since Nelson’s only police officer, Police Chief Heath Mitchell, resigned in October.
Ray said he expected a new police chief to be hired soon, and he was a supporter of the agency in general. In fact, for a few months in the early 1970s, Ray was the police chief in Nelson.
“Back in those days,” he said, “the mayor swore you in, asked you if you had a gun and gave you the keys to the patrol car.”
Ray said much has changed since then, although the city still doesn’t have much of a crime problem.
“Nelson right now, our crime is really not at a bad position,” said Ray, who was served as a judge in Pickens County for more than 18 years. “We just need to maintain a safe environment for the citizens of the city.”
He added he was opposed to the city’s Family Protection Ordinance, which the council passed in April and loosely requires heads of household to own a gun. Ray is a gun owner but said he didn’t believe in any kind of requirement.
Although Ray has his eyes set on improving Nelson, there is one unique problem the city faces that some mayors don’t have to consider. The city, which spans only about 1.5 square miles, is almost out of land for growth, he said.
“There’s very little property that would be available for development within the city limits as it stands right now,” Ray said. “We don’t have new commercial or endeavors or anything like that we’re looking at.”
But Ray said he would be happy to see Nelson grow in the right way. “If we can grow it with quality development, I’d like to see it grow,” he said. “But we need to preserve what we’ve got and look out for the citizens of the city.”