The sitting City Council — which has two empty seats — gave unanimous preliminary approval to the measure Monday night and is expected to make a final decision July 7, restoring authorities of hiring, firing and budget preparation to the mayor.
Those authorities, and other various administrative powers also to be restored, were taken away by the tiny town’s council and given to the council and city manager, as the mayor’s job has become increasingly ceremonial over time.
The job of city manager, which has been vacant since Brandy Edwards resigned in April, will likely be left open indefinitely, said Mayor Larry Ray, who took office in January and has been acting city manager since Edwards left.
Ray said he was prepared to step into his more administrative role as true head of the city permanently, though he ran for his office willing to be a weak or strong mayor, whichever the council preferred.
“I ran knowing what the situation was, as far as having the city manager and all,” said Ray, a former judge in Pickens County. “Whatever the position involved, I was prepared to do it.”
As historically has been the case, Ray said he expects the job will still have no salary.
Though the mayor thinks he’ll be comfortable in the new role, he added he wished Edwards hadn’t resigned.
“I truly wish Brandy had not taken the route she took,” he said. “We did have to continue on with city operations. We’ve adapted.”
Edwards was the most recent in a long line of Nelson officials who have resigned, citing the political troubles, mostly based on the power structure, that have dogged the city’s government for years.
One month earlier, Councilmen Jonathan Bishop and Duane Cronic called it quits on the same day. Bishop said he was moving out of town and his resignation had nothing to do with politics. Cronic, though, acknowledged the turmoil was part of why he stepped aside.
There was also Ray’s predecessor, Mike Haviland, who resigned after he was elected to replace resigned Mayor David Leister. In 1999, then-Mayor Dennis Lance was ordered to shut down the city after almost all officials resigned in the wake of disagreements over the city manager.
Haviland was in attendance at the council meeting Monday night at City Hall and said he was pleased with the push to empower the mayor.
“It’s a good thing,” said Haviland, who cited the power structure in his resignation letter last May. “The reason is it creates one person, like a CEO of a business, who can make decisions, give direction, come back to the council and ask for approval.”
With authorities returning to the mayor’s office and no city manager on the way, Ray said he hopes the troubles can be over for Nelson.
“I don’t anticipate any problems,” he said. “We have an election for two more council members. Hopefully, good ideas will be brought forth. All the strife and disagreements and agendas need to be a thing of the past.”
Residents asked at the council meeting Monday night had different opinions of the mayor’s seat regaining powers, though they seemed mostly open to the idea of a stronger mayor.
“I’m very much in favor of him having his powers back because we had a former mayor who resigned because he was only a figure head and couldn’t do anything,” said Judy Williams. “He was powerless and he had some excellent ideas. As a result, nothing was accomplished. But it’s a two-sided thing, because we’ve also had a mayor who was very controlling; he wanted to do what he wanted to do and would not listen to the rest of the board.”
Tom Thomason said ideally, the mayor and city manager would work together, but there were some things a mayor probably shouldn’t do.
“There’s accounting responsibilities, there’s record-keeping responsibilities, there’s day-to-day coordination of paying your tax bills,” he said. “Should the mayor be handling all that? I don’t think so.”