CHAPIN’S ELECTED officials must not misread the message town voters sent in defeating a Nov. 4 referendum that would have reduced the mayor’s powers.
While voters made it clear they prefer the status quo in terms of Chapin’s strong-mayor governing structure, that’s hardly an endorsement of the dysfunction that has characterized town government over the past year. In refusing to change the town’s form of government, voters have challenged their elected representatives to focus on doing the job they were chosen to do in the first place: work together to manage the town’s finances, make local laws, deliver services and secure Chapin’s future.
It’s a challenge that Mayor Skip Wilson and council members Bibi Atkins, Kay Hollis and Robert Frick should take seriously.
It might be tempting for Mayor Wilson to conclude that the vote gives him license to continue business as usual. That would be wrong. Mayor Wilson has been locked in a power struggle with the council’s majority since taking office in January, and both his actions and those of the council made a mess of Chapin’s government. It’s time that they end the infighting that has stifled progress and cast a bad light on the town.
Mr. Wilson’s election ended the tenure of 32-year Mayor Stan Shealy. We understand that such a change can result in an uneasy transition period. But things never should have gotten as confrontational and out of hand as they have in Chapin. Our democracy demands seamless, peaceful, civil transition from one elected leader to another to ensure that government operates in the best interest of the people. Both Mayor Wilson and council members Atkins, Hollis and Frick failed in that regard.
And instead of coming to terms with the change and getting their act together, they chose to fight over power and allowed the fight to get personal. Their inability to work together is what led to voters being unnecessarily and unfairly summoned to the polls to attempt to referee this shameful fracas between their chosen leaders.
But Chapin voters proved up to the task. We commend them for showing restraint and wisdom by rejecting an effort to change the town’s form of government for the sake of change. Making such a change without thoughtful, intentional community-wide dialogue would have been irresponsible. Even worse, it would not have resolved the animosity that grips the town’s elected leadership.
Mayor Wilson has made some troubling claims about the council majority’s competence, it’s alleged lack of engagement in town affairs and its motives when attempting to place items on the agenda for action. His penchant for refusing to allow items on the agenda is equally troubling. By the same token, the council members’ refusal to work with the mayor and acknowledge the vision voters obviously embraced, evidenced by his election, also raises concern.
While it might not be easy, the mayor and council must find a way to work out their differences. At the least, they must learn to tolerate each other enough to work cooperatively and civilly to conduct the people’s business.
Following the Nov. 4 vote, Mayor Wilson said the message for town leaders was to end the conflict. “I am committed to doing my part to work with everyone,” he said.
While his comments are encouraging, they mean nothing if they aren’t followed with genuine action. Mayor Wilson and members of Chapin Town Council are duty bound to end their feud and focus on governing. A refusal to do so should be met with stern rebuke by town residents — through calls and messages as well as at the polls.