RONDA — More than the weather was warm in Ronda for the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night during which Gene Fowler was appointed to fill the remaining period of the term left when Cody Soots resigned last week.
With Commissioner Sandra Simmons absent due to family illness, Fowler was elected after a nomination by Commissioner Manuel Wood with a second by Commissioner Rheajean Benge. The agenda item was added by Wood shortly before the meeting began.
“It is a travesty that the board would appoint [Fowler] to the board,” declared Varela in an impromptu statement made after the vote, explaining that Fowler has run for commissioner previously including coming in last of three individuals in his last attempt.
“The only reason Manuel is on the board right now is because no one ran against him,” continued an emotional Varela who managed to formally close the meeting before slamming the door behind him.
“The commissioners have talked with Gene and they feel Gene’s best interests are for the people of the town,” Benge explained. “We also discussed who was on the ballot and Gene was the only one who was registered to run for commissioner.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I like Ronda and I want to help and improve the town,” insisted Fowler. “We need to overcome [the past] and get more people in here.”
On Wednesday, Fowler was sworn in to his term which is up for re-election in November.
Fowler’s political history
According to the Wilkes County Board of Elections, Fowler has run for Ronda commissioner twice in the past 20 years with no other record of him running for office in the county.
The first time Fowler ran for Ronda commissioner was in 2009 when he came in last with 8.7 percent of the vote behind Wanda Blackburn (21.74 percent), write-in Brenda Miller (13.48 percent), Kevin Reece (12.61 percent), an un-named write-in candidate (10.87 percent), and Sam Foster who won with 32.61 percent of the vote.
The most recent time was for the unexpired term in 2015 against Helen Porter and Soots, who both won in that vote-for-two election with Fowler receiving 19.35 percent of the votes.
Rest of agenda
Without the appointment of Fowler as a new commissioner, the meeting would have ended very quickly with several items being approved with little discussion.
The evaluation form for town employees has been under review with adjustments being made to accommodate the needs of the town. “The only thing I think we need to look at is the performance ratings definitions,” identified Varela, who pointed out that both “outstanding” and “unsatisfactory” require notes in support of the rating.
“I would feel pained to not give Telesa ‘outstanding’ in every category, “explained Varela, who suggested that rating be eliminated to the agreement of the board. “If you have ‘unsatisfactory’ that should be documented because that could lead to dismissal.”
The Open Forum Policy also was discussed as the board changes to accommodating citizens who would like to speak to the board. “Ron suggested taking [a copy of the policy] and having it laminated to keep by the sign-in sheet.”
The board has been working to create a policy that ensures respectful communication between citizens and commissioners as well as accommodating the exchange of ideas. In addition to a formal Open Forum, residents can be recognized during agenda item discussion. This change was put into effect at the March board meeting.
The contract with All American Associates also was approved unanimously by those board members present. “It’s pretty well standard to what it was the last time,” acknowledged Benge. All American Associates is the consultation company used by the town and is owned by Gary and Ron Niland.
Wood also produced a check from Jimmy Vandall to pay for the surplus dump truck with snow plow which had no acceptable bids during the last meeting. “I have the check right here if the board wants to accept his offer,” stated Wood. Vandall’s offer of $1,500 for the truck and $100 for the wheel barrows was accepted.
The board also voted to change the work session on June 8 to 5 p.m. May 30. “We are changing [the date] so that we can do our budget session at the same time,” explained Varela.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.