Brandy Edwards, who held the joint title of city manager and city clerk, announced during the City Council meeting Monday night she was resigning immediately, citing the political infighting that has plagued the city for years as her reason for leaving.
“It is with a heavy heart that I leave this position, which I have assumed for the past 10 years, but due to ongoing conflict, I find it is no longer possible to continue my duties with the city,” Edwards said, reading from a prepared statement and breaking into tears.
Later in the meeting, the council voted unanimously to begin the process of changing the city’s charter to restore many authorities to the mayor. Those authorities had previously been stripped and given to the city manager in a controversial move.
Edwards’ decision to quit came on the heels of resignations from Councilmen Jonathan Bishop and Duane Cronic on March 28.
After Edwards’ announcement, questions immediately arose about how the city could operate without her, as she was one of only three employees in the town of about 1,300 residents, along with the police chief and a maintenance worker.
Mayor Larry Ray, who was elected in November to replace resigned Mayor Mike Haviland, said Tuesday he
planned to do what parts of Edwards’ job he could until authority was restored to the mayor’s position.
“I’m limited as far as what I can do, but I can sit here and answer the phone and take utility payments, things like that,” Ray said. “It’s unfortunate that she chose to resign. In all probability, we’re going to get away from a city-manager type of government.”
Edwards was hired by Nelson in 2003 as city clerk and was promoted to city manager in 2012. She manned City Hall and was known to perform a litany of different tasks, from taking payments for city services to fielding complaints about roaming animals.
The very existence of the city manager position has been a source of conflict in Nelson for years, as disagreement has raged about who should have certain authorities, the city manager, the council or the mayor.
The debate was part of what caused Ray’s predecessor to resign in 2013. It came up again earlier this year when a motion to demote Edwards to city clerk, clearing the way for Ray to assume a more powerful role as mayor, failed.
Now, Ray says he’s prepared to take the reins of the city and looks for the city manager job to remain vacant indefinitely.
During the meeting Monday night, though, the mayor appeared stunned by Edwards’ announcement and asked her to reconsider.
“Enough’s enough,” she responded.
As part of the terms of her resignation, Edwards asked the council to pay her for three weeks of personal time, 26 accumulated sick days and severance pay.
Councilman Thad Thacker said he wasn’t sure what city policy was on paying for unused sick days. Edwards said she wanted to be paid regardless of policy.
“I’ve sat here with strep throat; I’ve sat here with the flu; I’ve sat here through numerous things because I’m the only one here at City Hall,” Edwards told the council.
Thacker said he wanted to adjourn to an executive session later in the meeting to discuss the matter, though Edwards said she was ready to get it over with.
“Can I be excused from the meeting, then?” she asked. “I’m not staying until (then). I asked for this for a reason. There’s no reason to embarrass everybody up here, and if we want to start pointing fingers, we can truly point fingers.”
The council went into the executive session. When the council returned to the open meeting, it voted unanimously to accept Edwards’ resignation, but to consider what her severance package would be at a later meeting.
Councilman Jackie Jarrett said council members needed more time to think over how to compensate Edwards because her resignation was so sudden.
While members of the council and the mayor appeared to be caught off guard by Edwards’ announcement, some at the meeting were upset to see her go and placed the blame squarely on the still-seated officials.
Resident Phyllis Jones chastised the city council and Ray for Edwards’ resignation and the city government’s infighting in general.
“I don’t understand this, that you couldn’t have come to some kind of an agreement and at least kept her for two, three months so there was a roll over that somebody could have been trained,” Jones said. “All we do is argue, argue, argue. And we argue over petty stuff, and we never get anything done again — nothing.”
Former Councilwoman Edith Portillo echoed Jones’ statements.
“What this lady says, she’s absolutely right,” Portillo, who lost a bid for re-election in November, declared to the council, raising her voice. “It is beyond my mind what has happened to Brandy. You made her life miserable.”
Portillo continued raising her voice, and Ray eventually asked Police Chief Jim Koury to escort her from the building.
Portillo said it was “a pleasure” to leave and walked out.
Following Portillo’s exit, Ray addressed the accusations about officials’ treatment of Edwards.
“If she was unhappy, she should have expressed it to us,” he said. “She was under no pressure from me or from any other members that I’m aware of. She doesn’t always get along, but when you’re in the type situation she’s in, you’re going to have disagreements.”