GARLAND — Ralph Smith is back on the Garland Board of Commissioners, but his return to the table was not easy and sparked a heated debate.
During a Tuesday meeting, the longtime public servant in town was unanimously appointed to fill a void left by Judy Smith, when she resigned in August. She was elected in 2015, with a term set to expire in 2019.
Mayor Winifred Murphy was against the decision made by Commissioners S.J. Smith, Lee Carberry and Mayor Pro-Tem Haywood Johnson, who made a motion to have Smith back on the board. She questioned why he wanted to return after leaving a few months ago. After Smith resigned before the July Fourth weekend, Carberry was appointed as his replacement. His term expires in 2019.
“When you left, you left when some things weren’t really going well with the board,” Murphy said. “Do you feel that you need to apologize to the citizens who elected you for just quitting on us?”
Smith said he didn’t feel that he should apologize for his decision, which was based on his previous appointment to the public works committee.
“I didn’t feel like it was fair for me to be on public works and having it all dumped on me,” Smith said. “The town did not hire somebody to take the job.”
Soon after, Murphy asked whether Smith would be willing to listen to all points of views and inquired about his feelings on public works since an employee has been hired. Smith said he would be able to fulfill commissioner duties and help with public works.
Before the meeting, the board received an interest statement from Smith and from Eddie Bronson Jr. during the process. With 23 years of law enforcement, Bronson said he wanted to assist with the town’s safety committee and the parks and recreation committee.
“I would like to bring some new ideas and have some changes made,” Bronson said during his introduction. “It seems like the same old stuff we’re doing.”
After both applicants spoke, there was consensus to select Smith. Murphy reminded her colleagues that Smith has left the board twice. S.J. interjected in Ralph’s defense, saying the first time in June 2015 was for health reasons. He came back before the election in November 2015 and was re-elected for another four-year term.
“He’s quit twice since 2015,” Murphy said. “If he’s brought back on, the voters need to bring him back on.”
Smith is currently running for mayor in the upcoming November election. The town’s mayoral race also includes Murphy and Johnson.
Although Smith left the board a couple of times, Carberry backed Smith by bringing up his assistance to fix water leaks, sewer lines and other infrastructure work. He added that Smith knows the system and is always available to help.
“Ralph Smith has also been called several times when dilemmas struck the town since he resigned,” Carberry said.
Murphy acknowledged his work, but said he’s been called in as a citizen and not as a board member. But with one public works employee, the commissioners felt his help is needed. Shortly after, Carberry noted that he’s said his piece about the situation and S.J. remarked he’s tired of “backstabbing” and “hatching.”
“It’s time to move on,” S.J. said.
Murphy said she believed the decision was planned prior to the meeting, but called for the vote. That’s when more debate followed. Carberry felt that Murphy was putting down Smith in public by bringing up his past resignations. S.J. brought up the health matter again and previous concerns over perceived nepotism issues with a public work candidate related to both Smiths. A decision was also made at that point to pay $18 per hour, when the previous employee was receiving $13.
As commissioners talked about the family-related issue, Murphy said her cousin’s son was turned down and believed he was qualified.
“There’s a difference between someone trying to hire a relative, who has a blank application and no references,” she said. “My cousin’s son had a complete application and this board did not believe what he put on the application and called references just on that person and no one else that was hired.”
Carberry conducted background research for the applicant. Before the process, Carberry said he was told that applicant knew about working with water and sewer systems. After calling references, he reported that former employers said the mayor’s cousin’s son knows how to “hold a shovel.” Murphy then interrupted Carberry because he was going into personnel issues. She later banged her gavel and recessed the minute for 10 minutes.
When the meeting resumed, Murphy apologized to a room full of citizens for the outburst. Shortly after, Smith’s appointment was approved by the commissioners.
“I hope things will be better,” Murphy said.
He was sworn in by Town Clerk Pamela Cashwell. Murphy declined to administer the oath. Smith said it was OK and both agreed to work together to resolve conflicts.
“Thank you and welcome back to the board,” Murphy said following the oath.
“I know you didn’t really want me back, but that’s all right,” Smith said. “I hope we can get along better than we have in the past, which we may or may not. But I hope we do.”
Murphy expressed how it’s important for everyone to work together and listen to each other.
“The board has spoken and I accept that,” she said.
Before he resigned, Smith usually sat in the middle of the table — Carberry is now sitting there and asked Smith if he wanted it back.
“I don’t know about that chair,” Murphy said with a little humor. “That’s a revolving chair for everyone who gets in it.”
“Maybe that’ll fit me just right because I revolve a lot,” Smith said while taking his seat.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.