Model of stability: council unchanged since ‘07

kjahner@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2013 

Elaine Marshall, right, swears Gra Singleton in for his sixth term as a Town Councilman, making him Garner's longest tenured. Left to right, his son Harrison, mom Kathryn, daughter Emma Grace, and wife Tracey obscured in background) attended.


— Another election. Another swearing in. And another two years of the same six faces in the semiannual Town Council picture.

The last time Garner introduced a new face in that portrait, Ken Marshburn in 2007 unseated Phil Matthews – now the new chair of the Wake County Commissioners.

Since then, the six incumbents have a 10-0 record that would unnerve the undefeated ‘72 Dolphins. No other municipality in the area has seen quite that level of stability; a few like Zebulon have seen only scarce turnover due to incumbents stepping away voluntarily. But the vast majority have experienced multiple changes in that time, often with incumbents fired by voters.

Both Kathy Behringer and Gra Singleton said a town more or less satisfied with the direction of council has bred stability, as well as general consensus that the council members, while imperfect, had the town’s interest at heart.

Singleton spoke about the concrete things citizens can see regarding the town working for them – capital improvement projects in particular.

“It’s things they can touch and feel,” Singleton said. “People can touch and feel the sidewalks, they can touch and feel the parks, they can go to the GPAC and enjoy the show, to the Senior Center. I think people appreciate the approach we’ve had and like the direction we’ve been heading.”

More to touch and feel will come as the town starts spending a $35.7 million bond measure that passed with overwhelming support in March.

Behringer focused on civility and ability to work together to explain the stability.

“We don’t walk away angry over things that didn’t go our way,” the eight-year council veteran said. “We state our case and our opinion again and we move on and work together.”

Marshburn, the newest member, was unanimously elected by council as mayor pro tem for the one change this council. (Jackie Johns served most recently). The mayor pro tem serves as the mayor’s backup, and runs meetings the mayor cannot attend and represents him at functions the mayor cannot attend.

As a role with limited additional power, (“mayor pro tem and 50 cents will get you half a cup of coffee,” Singleton joked) it’s often uncontested and freely shared. Marshburn was the only one nominated this year largely because he’s the only one on the council who had never served in the role before.

The comparative newcomer echoed Behringer’s sentiment, mentioning the Jones Insurance disagreement where a split council overturned staff’s recommendation on an insurance broker. Marshburn lost the vote, arguing against overturning the staff’s professional opinion of which was the better firm. In a 3-2 vote, the town went with local provider Jones Insurance instead.

“I think it was an illustration where we had a stark difference of opinion on the best way to move,” Marshburn said. “I think even when our council has strong differences, we don’t get into public shouting matches and start making personal accusations that tend to leave bad feelings among members and carry over into future discussions.”

Behringer agreed.

“We’ve seen that in the past, fortunately the distant past now, and it’s not productive,” Behringer said.

The lack of overt public discontent with local leadership has led to an uncontested mayor race in 2011 and just one town council challenger, Jeanette Hagwood, this year. Behringer and Singleton, her opponents, said they thought Hagwood would have fit right into the council and residents professed positive opinion of her around town. But despite winning 29 percent of the vote as a first-time candidate, the popular incumbents topped the popular challenger.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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