New council members take office

Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

A number of new faces will be seen come January on various city councils in Henry County, as the winners in last week’s elections included some longtime incumbents, some first-time winners and at least one returning to public office after a hiatus.

Two of the three incumbents in Hampton whose terms are up at the end of 2015 - Zakery Daniel and Willie Walls - did not run for re-election. Henry Byrd did, and he will keep his seat after finishing second in the at-large race.

Joining him on the council will be Ann Tarpley and Chris Moore. Tarpley is a newcomer to City Hall while Moore served nearly a year as mayor in 2013 after the death of R.W. Coley. Moore was the top vote-getter in the council race.

After defeating Steve Hutchison in the special election to serve out Coley’s term, Moore was defeated in the regular election by Hutchison, who is the city’s mayor now.

“It was a huge honor,” Moore said of his previous stint in office, and he had no plans to run again for quite some time.

"Everything was going along pretty good. I was happy to have had a turn and didn't take is personally that I lost,” he said.

The fire earlier this year that took out several key downtown commercial areas played a part in changing his mind. He saw that some big decisions would be coming up regarding how money is spent in the city.

"I felt compelled to be part of that decision-making process," he said. "As long as there's work to be done, I want to throw my hat in and help."

Plenty of citizens encouraged him to run, many of whom were as impressed by his conduct after leaving office as when he was mayor, as he continued to talk positively about the city and its operations.

As for his goals now, "the main thing is to be a lot more transparent and to listen to all sides of an argument, to cast votes in a way that is best for the majority of the city."

Three new council members will take office soon in Stockbridge. John Blount, Elton Alexander and Neat Robinson were the top vote-getters in the field of eight candidates, as incumbents Alphonso Thomas and Regina Lewis Ward came up short. Robin Buschman, the other incumbent, did not run for re-election.

Alexander is a former member of the county’s Zoning Advisory Board and an outspoken advocate for economic development in the county as a whole and Stockbridge in particular. He listed “downtown revitalization” first when asked about his priorities in office.

“I want to help give citizens a downtown area they can be proud of,” he said. “I would like to see Stockbridge re-establish the position of economic development director so we have a professional working on economic development every day to move the process forward.”

As for the problems regarding the city’s Downtown Develop-ment Authority and the turmoil that has plagued the city’s government in recent months, he is looking to start from square one and move ahead in a positive direction.

“I have been in conversations with several council people and we are very hopeful that we can start the new council with a clean slate as far as that goes,” he said. “No matter what has happened in the past, it is my desire to start fresh, and I plan to come in with an open mind and work together with everyone.”

That seems to be the way things are going in Locust Grove - at least that is how returning councilman Otis Hammock sees it. He was the leading vote-getter last week and is gearing up for his third term in office.

Only 18 votes separated the entire field of four candidates. Incumbent Vernon Ashe was one of the top three along with newcomer Carlos Greer, who unseats incumbent Frances Ward.

Mayor Robert Price’s seat was also up for grabs, but he was unopposed.

“I just want to keep on with the way things are going,” said Hammock. “The mayor is doing a good job, and nearly everything we’ve come up with together lately has been unanimous.”

In McDonough, Craig Elrod is keeping his seat in District 3 after winning with about two-thirds of the vote against two challengers. Kamali Varner returns in District 4 after defeating former councilman Monta Brown, but incumbent Gail Notti lost her at-large re-election bid to Benjamin Pruett.