Ronda citizens and board members alike fired off criticisms at Mayor Victor Varela, but the mayor says he has no intention of resigning.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting Feb. 12, questions over the legitimacy of the town’s charter quickly spread to the legitimacy of the mayor. Despite criticism by some there, the mayor reminded them that he won re-election last time with 70 percent of the vote.
The charter is a hand-written document and has been made available to the public for examination, according to Varela. Due to the age of Ronda’s charter, many of the laws that first gave the town its authority have been updated or changed, he said.
Ronda’s town attorney spoke briefly on the subject, saying that in the 1920 town charter voters had the option of four options of government to choose from, but no vote was ever conducted.
Mayor Varela interjected that a 1971 North Carolina law had made available three forms of government, superseding the earlier law of four from 1917. “Under the 1971 law, this is the way I understood it now: there are really only three forms of government, which are termed the ‘mayor/council’ form of government, the ‘manager/council’ form of government, and then there’s an adaptation of the ‘mayor/council’ form of government which is a ‘mayor/administrator’ form of government, where you have a full-time administrator, which is like what we are now.”
Commissioner Sam Foster replied, “Even out of those seven, four at the beginning or the three latter, we still fit none of those categories.”
Foster said that regardless of whether the charter partially applied to the town or not, Ronda needed to write a new charter to prevent this debate from ever occurring again.
Neither Foster nor the town attorney said they were sure of the true standing of the town, and calls have been placed to N.C. District 94 Sen. Shirley Randleman for clarification and guidance by both sides of the debate.
The mood soured as several members of the audience and Foster each took turns expressing their displeasure with Mayor Varela’s governing. Many referred to the failed petition to remove the mayor in 2012, signed by around 80 residents, as a possibility even now.
The charter discrepancy arose when the petition was introduced and displeasure in Varela’s leadership grew. Under North Carolina law, towns don’t have the ability to recall a mayor.
“The state of North Carolina does not allow for the recall of elected officials unless it is specifically stated by an individual town,” said Frayda Bluestein, a spokesman for the UNC School of Government was quoted in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. While investigating a way to remove Varela in the charter, the bigger question of town status was raised.
At one point in the meeting, Mayor Varela stopped the proceedings and confirm his intentions to continue his tenure as mayor, in addition to several calls to order throughout the proceedings.
“Mr. Foster, I’m just going to clarify this once and for all. I received 63 percent of the vote the first time I ran. I got 70 percent the second time I ran. I think this board has done a tremendous job in the last few years accomplishing projects, big projects, that the town has faced and a lot of problems. And I have no intention of resigning. I intend to fill out my term, and if I decide to run again three years from now, I will do so, and the people from the town of Ronda can decide then whether they will like me to continue as mayor for another four years.”
Several audience members spoke out against various comments the mayor made, while even more spoke in low grumbles.
Kevin Reece, the founder of the Derie Cheek Reece (DCR) Foundation, was one of these residents. He requested to address the council during the public comments portion of the meeting, but was asked by Varela to hold his remarks until the charter was brought up and speak then.
Reece said his right to be heard by the board was infringed on by his not being able to speak uninterrupted at the open-forum portion of the evening. He also called for partisan elections, and the ability to remove the mayor be given back to the public, or to overturn the government and start anew.
In other business, the town is looking to upgrade its security. Increased surveillance equipment, such as better cameras around town hall, and a request for increased patrols by the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol are being considered to prevent the vandalism of town property and to combat the drug trade occurring inside town limits.
Speed bumps may also be making a comeback. Several town residents, led by resident Jeff Hoots, called for speed bumps to control the speeding problem on Factory Road. He provided photos showing the damage of a car that ran several feet off the road into a yard due to speeding, barely missing a pole. Many examples were raised, including danger to school buses where vehicles run over the hill and come upon a stopped bus in excess of 50 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Mayor Varela said that a company currently looking at the railroad crossing in town could also take a look at the streets in question and provide an estimate.
To reach Taylor Pardue, call 336-835-1485, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.