Pulaski Town Council: Dawson elected vice-mayor, interim town manager introduced

Tuesday evening Pulaski Town Council selected a new vice-mayor, heard from its newly elected mayor and interim town manager, and recognized a former member of council.

During the first meeting of the town’s new fiscal year, council also heard a presentation on retail development – a subject  that has been on the minds of council for some time.

Brooks Dawson, mid-way through his first four-term as a councilman, was unanimously elected as vice-mayor. His name was placed in nomination by former vice-mayor, Greg East.

Shannon Collins presided over his first meeting as mayor.

“I’d like to thank all the citizens of Pulaski for giving me this opportunity to be your mayor. It’s something I have wanted for a while … thought about. I really feel our town can be so much better, and that we can bring a lot back of what we have had,” Collins said.

“I will do my best and all in my power to make this town where you want to live, where you want to work and where you want to raise your family.”

Council approved a resolution commemorating the life and service of Mary Lou Copenhaver. The former councilwoman died March 19 of this year.

Serving on council from 1984 to 1992, Copenhaver was only the third woman to serve on town council and won her seat with the largest number of votes ever received by a woman candidate for council with 1,351.

According to the resolution, Copenhaver involved herself in the life of the community as a long-time faithful member of First United Methodist Church, serving her church for 45 years in various capacities.

Framed copies of the resolution were presented to her husband, Don and their son and daughter.

“Thank you all very much,” Don Copenhaver said.  “I was telling my son (Mark) that Mary Lou was one scared little girl when she first ran. But by the time she got through she was no longer that little girl after having gone through eight years of the type things that you all do.”

Council also recognized Skyline Bank’s assistance to the town.

During the current pandemic, Skyline allowed the town to temporarily locate a portion of its Finance Department at the former Wells Fargo Bank site on East Main Street.

Utilizing the drive-thru facility at the building allowed Finance Department staff and customers to conduct business with only minimal possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Mike Solomon, Pulaski County’s Economic Development Director, and summer intern Lydia Gilmer spoke to council on strategies for retail development.

Solomon told council that several years ago his office had prepared a flyer to be used by the town in its efforts to recruit retail business. He said Gilmer had prepared a new flyer with with updated information on population, income and potential retail sales based on 2019 figures.

Solomon said the flyer can go to retailers and show them where people in the Pulaski area go to spend their money and on what. Pulaski, he said, is one of three retail trade areas in the county.

Following their presentation, Solomon and Gilmer discussed retail recruitment with council – something that has been on council’s radar for some time.

Councilman Lane Penn reported on an expected spike in costs related to Peppers Ferry Wastewater Treatment Authority.

Penn said there was record rainfall in May and June, “unfortunately, that’s costly to us because of I&I (inflow and infiltration).”

He said Peppers Ferry reported it measured 120 million gallons of sewage in May, and another 175 million gallons in June. The elevated sewage figures wer due to May rainfall of nearly 9 inches, nearly 11 inches in June.

“That’s good for farmers, but not for the town because we have to pay for that,” said Penn. “We don’t know the cost yet, but there will be a spike.”

Interim Town Manager Mrs. Darlene Burcham was introduced to the public.

“Just like to say it’s been a very fast-paced four days,” Burcham said. “It has been an interesting time, but I will tell you I am very impressed with your town, I think it has a lot of potential. It obviously has its challenges, but I think that with guidance of council and your staff we can make things get on the right track. I’m looking forward to serving you all in this interim capacity.”

Following the resignation of former Town Manager Shawn Utt, Pulaski Town Council chose to contract with The Berkley Group to provide interim Town Manager assistance.

At the time of her appointment as Interim Town Manager, Burcham was serving as Town Manager for Clifton Forge. In joining The Berkley Group as a member of its Executive Management Team, which provides proven management services for localities that have an executive vacancy or require organizational assistance, she was available to Pulaski.

Her professional career can be traced back well before her tenure as the City of Norfolk’s Deputy City Manager in 1995, where she remained until 1999. After leaving Norfolk, she served as the City Manager for Roanoke City from 2000 until 2010.

Following a decade of success in Roanoke, she then accepted a position as Town Manager for the Town of Clifton Forge, where she worked from 2010 to 2020.

Burcham recapped her first four days on the job since becoming interim town manager on July 1.

Calling herself an avid reader, Burcham said he had just about “read out” reading 12 documents to learn about the challenges facing the town. She also met with each councilmember to get their perspectives and ideas on what they might can accomplish over the next 3 or 4 months.

“You can’t do everything in that time, you can’t do everything in 3 or 4 years. My hope is during the time I’m here I can help – with your help – to develop some plans that demonstrate your priorities and then have us actually working on priorities that can be accomplished,” she said.

Burcham wants to use some future work sessions to discuss individual issues, beginning with economic development.

“At the next meeting – the work session at 5 p.m. on July 21 – I’d like to devote almost exclusively that entire meeting to the subject of economic development and talk about what do you want to do next. I have found in my own experience you may have too many things going at the same time and you can’t get them all done well. I think its important for everybody’s sake that you maybe pick two or three, work hard on those accomplishments and then go to the next set,” she said.

Burcham said she had met with staff, made some changes with how the staff meets, and how they produce reports.

“You’ll see my first version of a weekly report this Friday, and I’m hoping you’ll be able to see what is going on day in and day out with your staff. They’re doing lots of things that you may not be aware of and I think its important that you and the public understand what those challenges are,” Burcham said.

“I’ve had very serious conversation with your finance director on the budget – current budget and what transpired in the past,” Burcham told council. She said the finance department staff is in the process of trying to implement some significant changes in the way the town accounts for and controls budget expenditures that would be done in advance of the expenditure rather than after the fact.

“I do hope to have as early as your work session a tentative yearend report as to where we stand,” she said.

Burcham said she wants to investigate some possible uses for the CARES Act money – the federal money – that is coming to the town through the county to address COVID-19 related issues, particularly the recovery.

She said after reading meeting minutes concerning Skyline Bank and the drive-thru window, she is looking at reinstituting use of the drive-thru at the town’s municipal building.

“Some citizens have stopped by to see me and I want citizens to know that if there’s time on my schedule I’m always willing to sit down with citizens and talk. That’s how I learn about the community,” she said.

Burcham noted she had taken a “field trip” Tuesday to tour some of the problem areas of the town.

She also noted she is in the process of evaluating the vacant staff positions with an eye toward giving council “a couple recommendations as to what I think are critical needs that we have. Not filling every position, but some that we have got to get the right people in and do the kind of follow-up that is necessary.”

“I’m working hard to see what is here that needs to be done and am very pleased to see there is a good foundation, we just need to work a little harder and maybe a little differently.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot

(Top photo) Don Copenhaver (center) with son, Mark (right) accept framed copies of a resolution honoring Mary Lou Copenhaver during Tuesday’s meeting of Pulaski Town Council. Mayor Shannon Collins (left) made the presentation. (Photo by Mike Williams, The Patriot)