All four of Canton’s current aldermen are bowing out of town politics come November. Mayor Mike Ray is the only town leader running for reelection. He did not return messages seeking comment about the sudden departure of all his fellow board members. Ray is running uncontested for mayor.
“I honestly thought that one or two of the board members may not run, but I was kind of surprised that they all elected not to re-file,” said longtime Town Manager Al Matthews.
The four outgoing aldermen offered varying and sometimes vague answers as to why they planned to step down.
“I’ve been on it for four years, and it’s time to give somebody else a chance to learn what it’s like to be a town leader,” said Alderman Ed Underwood. “Everybody in the town should take the time to do that.”
Underwood said he probably made the final decision on whether to run at the last minute — the night before the deadline for candidates to announce their intentions. Candidates seeking town office had until noon last Friday to file with the board of elections.
Fellow Alderman Kenneth Holland, who also served on the board for four years, kept his reasoning brief.
“I just decided not to,” Holland said, declining to say more than that.
The youngest member of the board, 32-year-old Alderman Patrick Willis, listed family and his job as the reason he won’t seek a second term. Willis and his wife have a three year old and 17 month old.
“They are keeping us busy,” Willis said.
Meanwhile, Alderman Jimmy Flynn, who was a longtime town employee before becoming an alderman four years ago, said he wants a respite from public service.
“I need a break from government right now,” Flynn said.
The aldermen all seemed unfazed that, like themselves, their fellow board members wouldn’t be running again. Willis, Underwood and Holland said they were unsurprised by their compatriots’ decision.
But Flynn answered the question diplomatically.
“I wasn’t shocked, and I wasn’t not shocked,” he said.
Ironically, the current Canton board has talked for some time about altering the town’s current election cycle — whereby the entire town board goes up for election every two years. Instead, they proposed switching to the more common model of four-year, staggered terms — whereby only half the seats on the board are up for election every two years.
It would eliminate the scenario currently being witnessed where there’s a nearly complete turnover of the board in a single election year.
But to change the town’s election cycle, it must be put to a vote of town residents. And that’s what the town has done on November’s ballot. Along with making their selections for aldermen, Canton residents can vote for or against making the switch to four-year, staggered terms.
If the new terms are approved, the two aldermen who receive the most votes will serve four-year terms. The next two highest vote getters will serve only two years before their seats are up for election, thereby setting the stage for four-year, staggered terms from there on out.
New town manager, too
Not only will the town board feature four new faces come January 2014, but Matthews also will retire, taking with him years of institutional knowledge as town clerk, assistant manager and eventually manager.
There will be a void to fill.
“(The new board members) are going to have a lot on their plate,” Willis said.
Like any new government officials though, the new alderman will attend seminars at the University of North Carolina School of Government detailing the duties of public officials as well as what they can and cannot do.
“There is a learning curve,” Matthews said. “Thank God for the UNC’s School of Government.”
Matthews added that hopefully, the new town manager will have the experience necessary to guide the board, even though he or she will be new as well.
The aldermen want to find a replacement for Matthews before he retires and before they depart. That way the new board is not faced with such a tough job right out of the gate.
“If we don’t (hire someone), we are not doing a good job,” Flynn said.
The town board started its search earlier this year and recently decided to keep its process private. The board voted not to hold a public meet-and-greet for the finalists once they are chosen. However, that could still be a ways off. Just last week, the board agreed to advertise for more applicants.
“We will be accepting more applications going forward, but we have not ruled out any of the applications we have received yet,” Willis said.