Gunter named mayor

Published 1:03 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Probate Judge Ben Bowden swears in Patricia Gunter as mayor of River Falls after the council appointed her to the position last night in a meeting at Wages Cafe.

For the first time in more than 30 years, the Town of River Falls has a new mayor, Patricia Gunter.

Gunter was unanimously appointed to the position following the swearing in of new council members Mattie Freeney, Richard Bowden, Cleveland Harris and Gary Wages Monday. The seat was vacant following the theft conviction and resignation of former mayor Mary Hixon last month.

Hixon’s arrest came after Covington County District Attorney’s office investigators began digging into town finances following a Star-News’ article in August that reported how Hixon sold the old town hall property, without council approval, to Richard Moss, a man who lived in her home for more than a decade.

During that investigation, a multitude of financial crimes were discovered – primarily the theft/misappropriation of $201,611 in money belonging to River Falls.

On Monday, the council took the first steps in “rebuilding and becoming one” with their constituents.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen maybe five people at these meetings,” Freeney said to the crowd of nearly 100 people who gathered at Wages Market for the administration’s first official meeting. “I hope all of you stay just as interested in this town for years to come as you are right now.

“We’ve got a lot to do – a lot of rebuilding to do,” she said. “We want everyone to know every voice counts.”

Gunter thanked the council and the residents for giving her the opportunity to serve.

“I don’t expect to always get along, but I expect us to come to an agreement for the town,” Gunter said. “I hope that interest in city business continues. I want to see people interested in helping. I want to see us become a community.”

As the first items of business, the council appointed MaryAnn Andrews as town clerk, Tom Albritton as municipal court judge, Chris Sledge as public defender and Patrick McCalman as town prosecutor, while affirming Greg Jackson as the town’s police chief.

The council also voted to require two signatures on town checks and to remove Hixon from any town bank accounts, as well as to allow only Andrews and Freeney to pick up mail from the local post office.

In other business, the council:

• voted to allow Covington Electric Cooperative to perform an energy audit to see how to reduce the town’s electric bills, as well as to disconnect service for the Conecuh River Feed and Seed store and the old fire department property on Old Pt. A Road and to any security lights paid by the town and located in residential yards.

• announced the town owes $27,000 in past due bills.

Councilwoman Olean Bean, who is currently recovering from a car crash in a Pensacola, Fla., hospital, was not present at the meeting.

The council will hold another meeting on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at town hall to address additional business items.