July 1 marked the reconstituted Staunton City Council as they met to vote on a new mayor and vice mayor. Usually a cut-and-dried process that has been decided unofficially before the public vote, this year produced a bit more drama when Councilman Ophie Kier decided to abstain from voting for either position even though his name was entered for both.
In the vote for mayor, Carolyn Dull was nominated by Councilman Jim Harrington and Ophie Kier was nominated by Councilwoman Andrea Oakes. The vote broke down into 4 yes (Dull, Harrington, Terry Holmes, Walt Obenschain), 2 no (Erik Curren, Oakes), and 1 abstain (Kier).
In the vote for vice mayor, the only name nominated was Ophie Kier. The vote broke down into 1 abstain (Kier) and 6 yes.
Kier’s name was entered for mayor because of concerns that Dull, who works in Craigsville and is usually unavailable during the day, would not be able to attend the numerous events around the city including meetings, organization boards, and ribbon cuttings that are part of the mayor’s responsibilities. However, not voting for himself for either position was a curious twist even though Kier had appeared to agree to have his name entered into nomination.
Councilwoman Oakes also noted her desire for an African-American leader which would be an historic first for Staunton, something enforced by the local NAACP of which she is a member. It must be noted that the City of Staunton has had several councilwomen over the years to serve as mayor but never an African-American council member.
Staunton’s City Council members do not run under party titles but the current politics of members is six who lean more liberal and one, Andrea Oakes, who leans more conservative. Staunton’s overall political makeup is 60 percent Republican and 40 percent Democratic so the continued loss of conservative-thinking council members represents an interesting shift in the city’s government.
City Council meets the second and fourth Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Meetings are open to the public.