story by Ryan Saylor
Greenwood has had three mayors since January 1. Yes, three. And as of May 20, the city will elect its fourth. And a possible fifth mayor could take office Jan. 1, 2015.
While it seems improbable for the city of not even 10,000 to have had so many mayors in such a short span and the possibility of a few more in just the next eight months, the turnover at city hall has been a series of unfortunate incidents.
It all started in January when then-Mayor Del Gabbard resigned citing medical concerns.
"It is not in my nature to quit a job before it is completed," he wrote in his resignation letter. "But given my medical problems and the toll that this job has taken over the past two years I owe this decision to my family."
The city's Acting Mayor Jim Gossett appeared to be moving things along until a March accident put him in the hospital and out of commission, leaving City Clerk and Treasurer Sharla Derry to add Gossett's responsibilities to her own.
Derry, now known as the acting mayor during Gossett's incapacity, said a special election is scheduled for May 20 to fill the last of Gabbard's term, with another election to be held in November to a full-term as mayor. Candidates for the May 20 election are Doug Kinslow and Alexander Selkirk.
She said to her knowledge, this is the first time in Greenwood's history that something like this has occurred.
"From what I'm understanding, unless I'm not right on the distant past, this is the first time that the city clerk has had to perform these duties. This is the first time that this has happened — the mayor has resigned, the mayor-pro temp was injured and the mayor didn't appoint someone, which is what could have happened."
Derry said she and Gossett discussed the possibility soon after he was admitted to Mercy Hospital, where he has been since March, but he declined to appoint anyone else, instead leaving her to handle the numerous duties assigned to both offices. Her title of acting mayor will continue while Gossett is in a specialized rehab facility in Dallas, which may last until the special election May 20.
The last time there was much turnover in the mayor's office, Derry said, appeared to be in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when several individuals served as either mayor or acting mayor.
"…(B)ased on the historical minutes of meetings," she wrote in an e-mail, "Pat Graham resigned (Aug. 11, 1989); Leon Hicks (a council member) was appointed and presided over a few meetings thereafter. Cindy Julian (a council member) became acting mayor on (Nov. 13, 1989) and served until (April 27, 1992). Joe Seigmund took over as acting mayor on (April 30, 1992) and served until (June 5, 1995). Leon Hicks again became mayor and presided over the (June 19, 1995) meeting and served until (Dec. 31, 1998) when he lost the election to Judy Selkirk, whose term began (Jan. 1, 1999)."
She said the last several mayors following Selkirk served full terms until the most recent period started in January. Those mayors included Selkirk from 1999 to 2002, Garry Campbell from 2003 to 2006, Kenneth Edwards, Jr., from 2007 to 2010, followed by now-former Mayor Del Gabbard, who served from 2011 until his Jan. 13 resignation.
But even with the high level of turnover in recent months and the turnover that occurred more than a decade and a half ago, former Greenwood Chamber of Commerce President Randy Davis said the uncertainty of who occupies the mayor's office has not impacted the city's ability to recruit business.
"The mayor, to me, is a figurehead. He can't do anything without the wishes of the council. I think that's what our last mayor … I honestly think that is what happened with him. He thought he would do what he wanted and then the council reminded him of what they wanted."
He said the period the city is in will pass, just like the period of the 1990s and he said the likelihood of any long-term impacts from the unexpected and unplanned turnover would be minimal.
"We'll have an election in May (for someone) to be mayor until November. And then we'll elect someone to a full term then. I don't see it being a long enough term to have any (major impacts). …But they can't do anything without the council. So it's no big deal. The upcoming election is ore important than what we're going through right now."
Derry said her 16 years in city government has given her the ability to fill in for the mayor during this period, even while maintaining her other positions as prescribed by state law. And if there were concern among anyone in the community, she hasn't been hearing about it.
"I've not received any worry myself. Maybe they're afraid to say. But I've been here for 16 years. I have quite a bit of experience under my belt. The mayor's office is such that you're presented with different circumstances, no matter who you are. But you handle it within the course of business and do the best you can."
The special election for Greenwood mayor is May 20. The regular general election will be held Nov. 4, which will include the position of mayor, as well as Derry's position of city clerk-treasurer, of which she plans to seek re-election.