There is considerable interest in the North Wilkesboro mayoral election this year, seen in the fact that four people (including the incumbent) are running for that office.

In light of this, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot asked North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper to explain the stated and unstated responsibilities of the mayor and commissioners.

Hooper said the mayor’s stated responsibilities include chairing town board meetings, formally certifying resolutions and similar actions approved by commissioners and appointing himself or commissioners to boards of non-profits and quasi-governmental entities.

The mayor exercises authority as necessary when emergencies arise. This has occurred more often during the pandemic likely than ever before.

The mayor doesn’t vote, unless the commissioners have a tie that needs to be broken. One of the five commissioners must be absent for this to occur, so it’s a rarity.

As for unstated responsibilities, Hooper said the mayor exerts his influence on commissioners to support policies, acts as a conduit for constituent feedback to the town and vice versa, maintains relationships with other governing bodies and represents the town while carrying out ceremonial duties.

Hooper said stated responsibilities of the commissioners include appointing the town manager, town clerk and town attorney; setting priorities; voting on budgets, policies, ordinances, certain personnel policy changes; and giving direction to the manager and staff. The commissioners collectively make appointments to commissions. They end states of emergency, as occurred earlier this year.

The commissioners’ unstated responsibilities include proposing policies, weighing policy proposals, balancing community wants with affordability, building support among fellow commissioners for proposals and residents for proposals, referring constituent matters to appropriate town staff and keeping a finger on the pulse of the community.

Hooper also explained the process of determining what goes on a town board meeting agenda and how the agenda can be changed.

The commissioners recently approved changing the agenda-setting process. Instead of holding a once-a-month “agenda setting” meeting, the commissioners gave Hooper authority to craft the agenda based on business needs and board feedback. He said it proved cumbersome and time consuming to have the board “put something on the agenda” and wait two weeks to vote on it, especially since many of items are administrative.

“At the same time, we did away with the distinction between the ‘regular meeting’ and the ‘work session,’ so all are now ‘regular meetings.’ ” He said this means all town board meetings have a public comment period, when any meeting attendee can sign up to speak on any topic, not just those on the agenda.

Speakers have three minutes to make their statements in both required hearings and voluntary comment periods, but the mayor can grant a nominal amount of extra time to let people finish their thoughts.

The elective public comment period is limited to 10 speakers per session. Required hearings have no limit.

The mayor can permit questions/comments from the audience outside the hearing sessions, “though I think the board would like to limit those and instead field public comments/questions during the designated period” as a matter of efficiency.

Hooper added, “If a board member wants to discuss a topic and perhaps take action on it, our order of business now contains an ‘emerging topics’ section for commissioners to raise topics. If the board agrees to discuss the topic further (and they usually do, at least out of courtesy to colleagues) they give staff a head nod vote, staff works on it and brings it back for formal discussion at a later date.”

He said this provides a way for commissioners to inject their policy ideas into meetings.

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