Mayor’s mandate for change in Franklin searching for traction
Jake Flannick • SMN Correspondent
He campaigned on the promise of making Franklin fertile ground for new ideas and encouraging more openness and transparency in government.
And when he was elected mayor by an overwhelming margin in November, Bob Scott started taking steps to keep those pledges.
But he has already encountered some stumbling blocks. At a town board meeting earlier this month, his second in his new role, two ideas he supported came under scrutiny.
One of them — forming a town committee to work with an elementary school inside town limits — was rejected outright by board members amid questions about potential legal issues. The other — a campaign pledge to schedule monthly “town hall” meetings where the public could talk about issues on their mind — was met with skepticism by board members.
The idea of regular forums for residents, merchants and town leaders to engage in open, informal dialog was a hallmark of Scott’s campaign. He believes his message of inclusiveness resonated with voters.
But he has now had to postpone the first forum, which had been scheduled for this month, until further discussion.
Scott admitted he was off to a “rocky start,” but he credits his election win to his promise to push for change.
“I think we’re just getting started,” longtime Alderman Billy Mashburn said.
But while Scott might have captured voters with his agenda, “that doesn’t mean that it’s written in stone because he’s the mayor,” said Alderwoman Joyce Handley, who has held her seat for the past six years and has known Scott for more than 30 years.
“Good ideas,” she said, “sometimes fall flat on their face.”
Scott admits that being mayor doesn’t give him any more sway than any other member on the board to advance a particular agenda. But Scott said he hopes the outcome of the latest meeting does not presage future discord in town hall.
Scott expects to reschedule his first “town hall” forum for later this month. It is a priority to a man whose views of governments big and small were shaped by the years he worked as a newspaper reporter in the 1960s.
“I believe in openness. What kind of mayor would I be if I don’t listen to the people I’m serving?” Scott said. “It’s a two-way street. I want to hear from everybody.”
The other board members said they merely wanted to make sure the forums were organized in a way they wouldn’t violate the state’s Open Meetings Law.
“We just want to tread cautiously on it,” said Warren Cabe, the town manager.
A dose of reality
Two new aldermen were elected to the town board in November, along with Scott being elected mayor.
One of those newly elected alderwomen, Barbara McRae, floated the idea of forming a school committee. Scott had planned to appoint McRae as the town’s liaison to East Franklin Elementary.
The motion was rejected 4 to 2 — McRae and the other new alderwoman, Patti Abel, voted in favor. The other board members raised concerns about the town running afoul of laws regulating the extent to which it could involve itself in county-run schools, particularly financially.
“The town has nothing to do with the school system,” said Mashburn, who made the motion to vote against forming the committee.
Beyond that, the idea came as a surprise, said Handley, who said she was unaware of the proposal before it appeared on the meeting agenda.
“Nobody on the board heard about it,” she said.
Abel said perhaps the proposal’s foundering resulted from miscommunication and it could be rekindled.
Scott’s ideas resonate with Abel, who at age 41 is the youngest member of the board.
At the same time, Abel acknowledged the more experienced board members may understand realities the newer ones don’t.
Mandate for change
During his campaign, Scott projected a sense of independence. He cited his record of dissenting votes in the latter part of his 10-year tenure as alderman, emphasizing his willingness to take unpopular stances on behalf of the public.
It was perhaps the main distinction between him and his opponent, Sissy Pattillo, whose main message centered on reaching solidarity among board members as a way to make the town government more efficient.
He captured nearly three-fourths of the total number of ballots cast in the mayoral race, nearly 700, according to official election results. It was a level of support underscored by a stream of unsolicited campaign contributions.
He ended up spending $5,225, about one-fourth of which came from his own pocket. He never organized any fundraisers, he said, though he hosted a couple of gatherings he called “friend-raisers” involving food and music as a way to reach out to voters.
“I had people come out of the woodwork,” Scott said, adding that a small group of young people volunteered to use social media to help spread his message.
Scott sees the election’s outcome as a clear mandate from voters to carry out his vision of change.
“Franklin needs new ideas,” he said, “and those new ideas will come from the public.”
At the same time, he will make it a point to encourage discussion among board members.
“I want a democratic board,” he said.