After a week of spirited public debate, the Oak Ridge City Council re-elected Tom Beehan to a third term as mayor in a 4-3 vote on Monday.
He narrowly beat Oak Ridge City Council member David Mosby, who announced his candidacy this past weekend.
Council also re-elected Jane Miller to a third term as vice mayor—or mayor pro tem—on Monday. She received four votes, and Mosby, who hadn’t sought the position, received three.
The close vote Monday followed a week of public debate that included dozens of online comments and letters to the editor that were triggered by new City Council member Trina Baughn’s call for Beehan to drop his mayoral bid and even consider resigning from council.
Beehan voted for himself for mayor. Miller also voted for him and so did City Council members Charlie Hensley and Chuck Hope.
Voting for Mosby were Mosby, Baughn, and City Council member Anne Garcia Garland.
During Monday night’s standing-room-only meeting, Baughn, who has also requested records of Beehan’s travel expenses for the past five years, said she doesn’t have a personal vendetta against the mayor.
“We’re in a steady state of decline,” said Baughn, citing increases in city spending and debt. “Mr. Beehan has had a decade to lead us toward prosperity, and that has not happened.”
But other council members said the debt was largely due to the schools, and they pointed out that Oak Ridge residents voted overwhelmingly for one significant piece of that debt, the renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.
“It is not due to council or one person on council,” Miller said.
Beehan’s supporters, and Beehan himself, said the city has reached a “tipping point.” They cited recent developments generally viewed as positive, including the $30 million Kroger Marketplace shopping center at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue, and the proposed $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 National Security Complex. They also pointed out that it’s been several years since Oak Ridge has had a property tax rate increase.
“I think we’ve really turned the corner,” Hensley said. “I don’t think we need any significant changes.”
Pat Postma, one community leader who spoke in favor of re-electing Beehan, said Baughn’s recent column, posted on her website and submitted to local media, “took my breath away.” In the column, Baughn alleged the mayor had publicly encouraged “backroom meetings” on the high school debt and will benefit from the proposed Kroger shopping center, among other things.
“The tone seemed not just misinformed, but malicious,” Postma said.
Still, public comments during Monday night’s 45-minute election were evenly split between those supporting Beehan and those supporting Mosby.
Interviewed Monday afternoon, Mosby said his decision to seek the mayor’s position had nothing to do with the feud between Baughn and Beehan.
“I have always wanted to participate in a leadership role on council,” Mosby said.
Those who supported him Monday night said it was time for new leadership.
“I think we need some change, some fresh blood,” resident Don Carson said.
Mosby has previously sought to become mayor pro tem and has received votes for mayor in previous City Council elections. In Oak Ridge, the mayor and mayor pro tem are elected by the seven-member City Council after each municipal election.
Mosby and Beehan have both been council members since 2001. Miller has been a City Council member since 2003.
Miller voted for herself as mayor pro tem. Beehan, Hensley, and Hope also voted for her.
Baughn, Garcia Garland, and Mosby voted for Mosby for mayor pro tem.
Also interviewed Monday afternoon, Hope, who seemed to provide the swing vote during Monday’s City Council meeting, said some residents have asked him to consider running for mayor or mayor pro tem.
Hope said he could serve if the time or circumstances were right, but he said it was still “a tad early for me.” Hope was appointed to council last summer after former member Tom Hayes resigned. He won a special election in August and was elected to his first regular four-year term on Nov. 6.
Hope said he had probably had more than 200 phone calls, e-mails, and conversations with residents who wanted to share their opinions or concerns regarding the election between Beehan and Mosby.
“We have a lot of momentum going right now,” Hope said. “The last thing we need is a divided city. We need to make sure we have a unified council.”