For a campaign that was non-existent until last week, the unexpected race for a South Ward seat on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is becoming the hottest in the 2015 municipal election season.
The latest development involves incumbent Shirley Brinkley responding to comments this week by Bill Clark, who is mounting a write-in candidacy against Brinkley.
Clark, who said he did not toss his hat into the ring during the candidates’ filing period in July because he thought someone else would run, has questioned Brinkley’s actions on several city issues.
Included were her positions on salary increases for city personnel, a redevelopment effort involving the former Spencer’s Inc. property and the spending of taxpayer dollars in general.
That prompted Brinkley to issue a two-page written response on Thursday clarifying her positions and responding to statements by Clark, essentially saying that he lacks a full understanding of her work on the city board.
“Bill attends very few council meetings and does not know any ‘exact’ statements that are made or the reasons why decisions are made,” Brinkley says in her response.
“Perhaps he is being fed information from a third source and believes everything he is told, who knows.”
Brinkley is seeking re-election to her second four-year term as a South Ward commissioner, a seat for which Clark ran unsuccessfully eight years ago. He is the son of a former Mount Airy mayor, Edward Clark.
The younger Clark declared his write-in candidacy last week, the fate of which will be decided in the Nov. 3 general election, when winners also will emerge for two other commissioner seats and the office of mayor.
One of Clark’s focuses this week concerned former Mayor Deborah Cochran, for whom Brinkley did not support a salary increase, but later voted to approve a 66 percent hike for the city attorney on Aug. 20.
However, in her response, Brinkley pointed out that a raise was considered for Cochran only after she announced her resignation in March. “In reality, a raise is not given after someone resigns,” the incumbent states.
Cochran’s announcement prompted Commissioner Jon Cawley to make a motion to raise her compensation level to about $26,000 annually for the part-time mayoral position, for which Cochran was grossing $14,640. Other board members did not support that move.
Brinkley agrees in her response to Clark that Cochran “did an outstanding job representing our city” and worked hard in the position. “She spent numerous hours in the office answering emails, phone calls, writing letters, attending meetings and meeting the needs of new business openings,” Brinkley states.
“The council could have encouraged her to stay and given her a large enough raise to help her financially,” the South Ward commissioner adds.
“But we must remember that the salary is known when each council member comes on board. The mayor knew, as we all know, that the salary is only a supplement to someone’s income. The salary is not meant to cover the hours and hours a council member spends on city work. Mayor Cochran took the job knowing what we all know — the salary is a small amount.”
Brinkley says Clark was unaware of the fact that she did encourage an earlier raise for Cochran shortly after Brinkley became a commissioner.
“As for the attorney’s raise, this was a smart move,” Brinkley’s statement notes regarding the 66 percent increase granted last week for Hugh Campbell, who had not received a hike in some time. “Ten years without a raise is thoughtless.”
That decision was 4-1, with the lone dissenter, Commissioner Dean Brown, arguing for the raise to be phased in over two years.
In light of her positions regarding Campbell and Cochran, Brinkley also defends her lone vote against the 2015-2016 municipal budget in June, which included a 3 percent raise for all city employees.
“I felt that an across-the-board raise was not a fair way to give a raise,” her response reads. She instead favored lower-paying workers getting a larger increase and higher-paid personnel a smaller one, and the consideration of merit raises.
“What Bill fails to realize is the wonderful benefits that local, county and state workers receive that few companies offer,” Brinkley says in her response.
Brinkley further takes issue with a claim by her opponent that she is “backpedaling” concerning a redevelopment process she and other commissioners launched in 2014.
Clark suggested that Brinkley joined the majority of commissioners in voicing support for not including private property surrounding the Spencer’s site in the target area because this is an election year. This occurred at a meeting last week, after Clark’s write-in campaign emerged.
“I do not play politics. I speak my mind and vote accordingly,” Brinkley’s statement reads.
“I have no problem with the purpose of the redevelopment committee,” she says of its mission to revitalize vacant property and create jobs.
“But I do have a problem with where it is headed. I have said from the very beginning that the Spencer’s buildings that are owned by the city should be the target area and nothing more.”
While Brinkley takes issue with Clark’s “backpedaling” accusation, she does believe a commissioner has the right to alter his or her stance as new information becomes available. “Sometimes it is necessary to change one’s mind,” her statement says.
“Every situation has to be met cautiously and sometimes even with that caution, opinions and ideas are changed.”
Another point raised by Clark was that city officials are not devoting proper financial resources for Mount Airy’s infrastructure needs, to which Brinkley responded:
“If Bill did his homework before making accusations and inaccurate statements, he would know that money is being spent on needs of the city such as sidewalks and water and sewer improvements.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.