Gene Fowler was unanimously named to replace Cody Soots as a Ronda commissioner during a brief town meeting Tuesday night and was sworn in by Town Administrator Talesa Carter on Wednesday morning at town hall.
Soots resigned as commissioner on April 5 after a letter was sent to him by town officials asking for his resignation because of his limited attendance at town meetings. Soots’ two year term on the board will end in November.
Commissioner Manuel Woods nominated Fowler and it was seconded by Commissioner Rheajean Benge. Commissioner Helen Porter, Woods and Benge voted for Fowler. Commissioner Sandra Simmons did not attend the meeting.
Mayor Victor Varela opposed the nomination of Fowler at the meeting and said he would not swear him in as a commissioner.
Fowler, 73, ran for a seat on the Ronda board in 2009 and 2015, but lost both elections. He has lived in Ronda for 17 years and is retired from Elkin Furniture. Fowler and his wife Shelby live on North Hoots Road in Ronda and have two children and four grandchildren.
He described Ronda as a “good town with good people. I want to be part of helping the town,” said Fowler.
He declined to comment on Varela’s opposition to his nomination.
During an interview Wednesday morning, Varela said he was surprised by the decision to nominate Fowler. He said he was not part of any discussion to name him as commissioner and criticized the board for its secretiveness.
“The discussion to name a commissioner should have been in an open forum,” said Varela.
Following the 11 a.m. swearing in of Fowler, Benge said the board had “looked at potential candidates and felt Gene was the better choice. He will do a good job and will be 100 percent for the residents.”
Wood described Fowler as a “good person who would do a good job as a commissioner.”
In a statement, Varela said, “It’s disheartening that the board has once again appointed someone who has been dismissed by the voters of Ronda to be a commissioner.”
Varela says that Fowler lost by substantial percentages both times he ran for commissioner.
“There are plenty of qualified people who could have fulfilled the position vacated by Commissioner Soots but Manuel Wood orchestrated Mr. Fowler’s appointment. Let’s not forget that the board appointed Mr. Wood to the board and it led to his unopposed election in 2009,” said Varela in the statement.
Benge said the fact that Fowler was not elected in his bids for a town seat “had no bearing” on his appointment to the board. “He cares about people and wants to serve the town.”