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Outgoing city representatives say goodbye to public office

Oxford City Council’s Nov. 16 meeting marked Mike Smith’s last full meeting as Mayor, as well as Edna Southard’s last meeting as a Councilor.

Both representatives were term-limited in this year’s election and are therefore saying goodbye to public office. Their seats will be filled by incoming councilors Alex French and Amber Franklin, and the new mayor will be selected at an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23 in the Oxford Courthouse.

Smith and Southard were each elected to Council eight years ago and have served two terms. Smith became Mayor in 2019 after being selected by his fellow councilors to follow in the footsteps of former Mayor Kate Rousmaniere.

“It really has been my pleasure to work with all of you,” Smith said to his fellow councilors at the meeting. “To Amber and Alex, you’re getting a great group to work with. You guys are gonna do great things together. It’s gonna be an even greater council than this one.”

Southard listed the accomplishments of the city during the past eight years. Since she started on Council, Oxford has purchased Lane Library, expanded the Oxford Area Trails System, improved sidewalks, purchased a defibrillator for the Oxford Courthouse and renovated multiple city-owned buildings.

“No wonder we’re all tired,” Southard said. “I hope that everybody has a great Thanksgiving and a restful time, and I wish continuing success to all my colleagues on council, to the incumbents and to the new people.”

During the meeting, Council also approved a resolution to hire Heather Barbour as the new Clerk of Council. Current Clerk Mary Ann Eaton, who has been with the city for 20 years, is retiring at the end of November.

Barbour was hired in late October and will become the city’s Clerk of Council starting Dec. 1.

Vice Mayor Bill Snavely said he’s confident in Barbour’s ability, though she’ll have to compete with Eaton’s decades-long legacy.

“The shoes are pretty big to fill,” Snavely said, “but having participated in the interviews, I think that Heather’s gonna do a really good job, and I know that my colleagues and I wish [her] really well.”

Council also passed a host of ordinances related to the city’s use of both financial and human resources in 2022. The meeting included five separate second readings of budget ordinances from Finance Director Joe Newlin and one ordinance from Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene to establish city employees’ salaries for the next fiscal year.

Most ordinances were passed without debate, but Snavely took issue with the ordinance adopting city fees and charges because it raised parking meter charges.

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The groundwork for higher parking fees was laid in an April meeting. When the city decided to purchase new digital parking meters, it raised the price from 25 cents to $1 an hour. Snavely objected to the change at the time, arguing for incremental increases in pricing rather than a 400% increase.

He repeated his objection at the most recent meeting and proposed an amendment to lower the cost of parking to 50 cents for the Uptown parking garage and select side streets.

“It seems reasonable to me to have a step-down so that on side streets … which are now at 25 cents an hour, we might go up to 50 cents an hour,” Snavely said.

The amendment failed with Snavely, Smith and Councilor Chantel Raghu voting in favor against the remaining four councilors, while the ordinance itself went on to pass.

Council will meet again in the Oxford Courthouse for an organizational meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 23, to officially appoint incoming councilors Franklin and French ahead of the Dec. 7 meeting.