Kilmarnock residents ousted every town council member running for reelection this year, replacing half of the six-person body. Ahead of the transition, incumbent and newly elected town officials have gone on record airing their emotions and making clarifications aiming to address what’s true and what’s not.
Vice mayor Rebecca Nunn and council members Michael Sutherland and Alice Cooper are the incumbents losing their seats. They’ll be replaced by Kylie Abbott, Michael Bedell and Donald Lee, all of whom are serving on Kilmarnock’s town council for the first time.
Emotional goodbye and statements on the future
At the June 15 town council meeting Kilmarnock’s mayor Mae Umphlett expressed appreciation for the service of the departing council members. “We have accomplished so much together, and it’s been an honor serving with all of you…We’ve had a wonderful ride and we did some great things. So, I’m going to miss you,” she said and the other sitting council members agreed.
“We’re not only going to miss you, we’re going to feel sorry for you,” Nunn replied, adding “I wish the new members of the counsel good luck. I hope they’ll take their oath very seriously, that what they are here for is the betterment of the town, and not for personal gain or business gain.”
“I hope that they will understand that they need to study the charter, the bylaws, the rules and regulations, and that they will understand that there are many, many things they cannot do because the local council cannot override the county or the state.” She reiterated that she hopes the newcomers will take their responsibilities very seriously “and remember that they represent the people. They’re not leading the people.”
“I look forward to some interesting council meetings,” Nunn added.
Sutherland weighed in, telling the residing council members that “every council meeting we’ll hoist one for you,” and he made the motion of throwing back a shot.
Cooper also stated how “impressed” she was by the current council and staff, how well they worked together, and all that the council accomplished so far this year. “Everyone is so dedicated and this town is definitely Kilmarnock Strong. We all just need to keep that in mind as we go forward. As others have said, what’s best for the town, that’s what everyone needs to think about,” she added.
During that meeting, town manager Susan Cockrell also informed the council that she had responded to a request that Lee made of the mayor. He wanted details about how much money the town had spent on cardinal signs. Lee was not present but Cockrell said she emailed him and informed him that the town spent $26,150, which was less than the $27,284 the council approved in February and that the sign in question is paid in full.
Clarifications about false statements and ads
At a special budget meeting on June 22, Lee used the first public comment session to thank Cockrell for her “rapid and honest” response to his request. “It’s very refreshing and helpful” he said, adding that he is looking forward to working with her in the future.
Mayor Umphlett followed Lee’s noting that she’s been mayor for six years and she normally doesn’t make such statements but she wanted to go on record to address an issue involving Lee.
“Statements made during the public comment session at an earlier council meeting were incorrect and I feel like it was an attack on me. I don’t want that to be part of the record because what was said was not correct,” she explained.
“So that we have it on the record,” Umphlett explained that she was asked if she was present for the February 24 committee meeting. She didn’t have a calendar at the time and didn’t really know because committee meetings are not held at the end of the month. Later she realized Lee was talking about a council meeting, not a committee. “That’s why I couldn’t get my thoughts together, Don,” she said addressing him directly.
“But I would like to correct the statement from last week’s council meeting to which I felt I was accused of being dishonest,” she continued. “Don Lee stated that on March 16, I said the sign at the town center park had not been approved. Mr. Lee asked two questions. He asked if funds for a digital sign had been approved to which I said nothing. He then asked if funds for a cover for the park had been approved to which I said, we haven’t approved that. And that was my statement on that,” she clarified.
“If anyone wants to review it, the public may view this exchange on the March 16 video on the Kilmarnock website,” she added.
Later, during the discussion about the town’s budget council member Emerson Gravatt asked Cockrell if the reason that the town chose not to change water and sewer rates was due to the fact there were three or four rate hikes in the past. He said the new council members posted that information in an ad and he wanted to clarify whether it was correct.
Cockrell said that there was an increase in 2019 and the most recent hike to water and sewer rates before that was in 2008.
Abbott was in attendance and came to the podium to offer her version of clarification. “I never approved an ad for anything,” she added.
“Well your name was on it,” Gravatt shot back.
“That’s why I’m sitting over here wringing my hands a little bit because I did not approve an ad,” she repeated.
“The other thing I wanted to say is you guys have done a really great job, and I really thank you for doing everything you have done for this town. The park is fantastic. Our children enjoy it every day. And I’m looking forward to filling some big shoes,” she concluded.
Abbott, Lee and Beddell will be sworn in on July 1.