Williamston sees drastic shift in council

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By Jesse O’Brien
Williamston Post staff writer

Sandy Bowden-Whelton hopes to see a shift in the Williamston City Council's attitude in the upcoming year.

At this time last year, the Williamston City Council was made up of council members Michael Moody, Scott VanAllsburg, Larry Wittrup, Andy Simmons and John Pratt. City Manager Tim Allard was in his second year with the city, and the city administration appeared to be stable.However, after Simmons’ recent resignation, Wittrup’s decision not to seek reelection and Allard’s impending retirement in January, the council began to prepare for those changes.Those changes were accelerated even further by the election that took place on Nov. 8, which unseated Pratt and left the council with almost a completely different makeup. VanAllsburg and Wittrup were reelected, but two new councilmembers, Sandy Bowden-Whelton and Ben Stiffler, will begin their terms at the end of November.

Additionally, the council will vote on Monday either to elect a new mayor or maintain current Williamston Mayor Michelle Van Wert in her position.

Sandy Bowden-Whelton, who has served on the council before, earned a four-year term after coming in third place in the voting while Stiffler will serve out a two-year term.The council also selected James DeForest to take over the empty chair left by Simmons’ departure and will now turn its focus towards picking a new city manager.

In a previous interview, Allard predicted that Williamston could see an entirely different city council following the election, and the city would see the effects of that.

“Every councilmember brings [their] own personal worldview, priorities and objectives and those are the people who make decisions that affect the community,” he said.

Throughout the past year, there had been conflicts, with councilmembers Pratt, VanAllsburg and Moody on one side opposite Van Wert. Stiffler and Bowden-Whelton ran as part of a four-person team that openly supported the mayor, and the new blood could shift the dynamic quite a bit.

Bowden-Whelton said she only wanted one thing out of the new council. “Peace,” she said. “There’s been a lot of bickering going on in the council the last couple of years and I’m hoping that a change of pace will settle things down and get back to the basics of council.”

Bowden-Whelton added that city council meetings have become too long because of the fighting, and that is simply unacceptable.

She said the council needs to shorten its agendas and focus on the tasks at hand.

Moody said he believes the fighting has become an issue as well, especially between Mayor Van Wert and Allard.

“It was a major problem, because it caused the council to spend time addressing issues that seemed like more of a personality problem with (the two) than on city business,” Moody said.

In the search for a new city manager, she hopes the council will appoint someone who lives within the city limits. Allard currently commutes between Grand Rapids and Williamston.

“Even though he’s considered a pretty good city manager, I would love to see somebody who’s familiar with Williamston,” Bowden-Whelton said.

With the new council dynamic and possibility of a new mayor being chosen by the council next week, Moody hopes the fighting can stop and the council can get down to serving the city of Williamston.

“I don’t know for sure, you never can tell,” he said. “But hopefully things are going to change, and we’ll see what happens on Monday.”

Click here to see a short picture slideshow showing the players involved in the council shake-up.

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