By Alex Bridges
MOUNT JACKSON -- Town Council has selected a former member to fill the mayor's seat until the next election in May.
At a special meeting Tuesday, council voted 6-0 to appoint Michael Koontz as interim mayor. Koontz succeeds longtime, popular Mayor Joseph "Joe" Williams who died last week after a brief illness.
Koontz, a commercial loan officer with First Bank, served on council for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008. Koontz appeared at the meeting for the appointment.
Koontz will serve out the remaining time of Williams' term that expires May 31, 2014.
Councilman Rod Shepherd said he spoke to three residents who offered to step in and serve as mayor. Shepherd said all three were qualified and dedicated to the town.
After the meeting, Koontz said he felt humbled by the appointment that he called "bittersweet." Koontz noted that he and Williams' family are neighbors and friends. He also lauded Williams' for his work as mayor.
"It's sad that way, but I'm glad to do it, Koontz said.
Koontz said he had not yet decided whether he would run for election to the mayor's seat. Koontz said he sees himself more as someone who can bring council together as it focuses on the challenges of filling three vacancies within the town staff. Koontz said council faces the "monumental" task of hiring a new town manager, plus filling a new planning position and finding an accountant.
Council also voted 6-0 to instruct Town Attorney Douglas Arthur to file a petition in Shenandoah Circuit Court asking a judge to allow Mount Jackson to hold the mayoral election in May.
A judge could disagree with the attorney and council, reject the petition and order the town to hold a special election for mayor in November on the date of the next regular election, Arthur said. The attorney pointed out that the town could save money by holding the contest at the general election. Mount Jackson would need to cover any cost of a special election.
Arthur recommended council go into a closed session to discuss the matters further in private. The attorney said the Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows council to talk about the issues in closed session. Council voted 6-0 on a motion to go into closed session under the section of the act that pertains to personnel and legal counsel. Council spent about 45 minutes in closed session to discuss the matters before returning to the open meeting.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org