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SHARPSBURG — A show of force and a statement of faith marked Mayor Robert L. Williams’ first day in office Tuesday.
Moments after being sworn in, Williams moved to strip Commissioner Randy Collie of police oversight duties and install Commissioner David Pride as mayor pro tempore, sidelining Commissioner Becky Humphrey from the role. He then announced a prayer vigil to take place at the meeting’s conclusion.
“Commissioner Randy Collie, in moving forward, I have decided the police department needs to move forward in a different direction,” Williams said. “Chief (John) Hunt, I give you complete control of your police department.”
Collie has served as police commissioner, overseeing the department and making recommendations on law enforcement matters to the full Sharpsburg Board of Commissioners.
Williams directed Town Administrator Blake Proctor to notify him of “any important incidents that may occur within the town government of Sharpsburg” and told Humphrey that he “had decided to appoint Commissioner Pride as my mayor pro tem.”
It was unclear late Tuesday whether either change is subject to a board vote. Proctor said after the meeting that town ordinances do not specify how the mayor pro tem is selected, noting the board has traditionally given the job to the commissioner receiving the highest number of votes in the town’s at-large election.
Town Attorney Brian Pridgen declined to comment when asked if Williams’ bids to shake up the board were binding.
During his brief remarks, Williams said a prayer vigil outside Town Hall would follow the meeting.
“Prayer is much needed within this community to bring it back together,” he said.
Williams defeated former mayor Randy Weaver by seven votes in a May 8 special election. Less than an hour after the polls closed, Sharpsburg police stopped Williams’ car and officers arrested him on charges of drunken driving, having a concealed weapon and resisting, delaying or obstructing officers.
The mayor’s pastor, the Rev. Thomas L. Walker of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, said Williams “came before the church and asked for forgiveness,” which the congregation extended.
“We don’t condone it,” said Walker, who led the post-meeting prayer vigil, “but we don’t condemn him either.”
Williams referred questions about criminal charges stemming from the traffic stop to his attorney and walked away from a television reporter who quizzed him about it after the prayer.
The new mayor’s supporters turned out for Tuesday’s meeting, packing the commissioners’ chambers and giving him enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation after his swearing-in. Williams thanked members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity for their backing. He wore an Alpha Phi Alpha pin on his suit.
Sharpsburg resident Bernie Walker said he gave Williams his vote to affect change.
“I voted for him because a lot of things that need to get done in this town do not get done,” he said. “It’s not a black and white issue. It’s not a ‘this side of the railroad track vs. that side of the track’ issue. We just wanted some fresh people in there so we could possibly get some fresh ideas through. Right now we feel like we’re not heard at all.”
Barbara Etheridge left the town meeting and prayer vigil feeling hopeful.
“We need some change,” she said. “It gives us hope that some changes are going to be made in Sharpsburg, from the utility department down to the police department.”
Patricia Batts said Williams set a positive tone by beginning his term with a public prayer. Despite the Election Day arrest, she wants residents to give their new mayor a chance to serve effectively.
“Just because someone holds office, we have to realize that they are human, too,” she said. “They are human beings. They make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. That’s the thing that we have to look at now.”
Walker said he believes Williams can have a positive influence on the town by serving as the residents’ voice.
“Everybody makes mistakes, but we don’t just crush a person because they made a mistake,” he said. “We try to pick them up, we move forward and we see what kind of direction we can get this community going in.”