BERLIN – Along with developer Troy Purnell, former Berlin Mayor Rex Hailey filed to run for the vacant District 1 town council seat this week. Hailey and Purnell will face early filer and political newcomer Phil Cropper.
Hailey, recently defeated by Mayor Gee Williams in the mayoral race, had not planned to run for his district’s council seat, but was persuaded to run by supporters, he said.
With eight years on the town council at the beginning of his political career, followed by eight years as mayor, Hailey has governing experience that neither opponent can match. Hailey said he has not altered his positions since his mayoral run, continuing to stand for a business-like approach to government, the need to reduce electric costs, better treatment of townsfolk by town hall, supporting Main Street businesses, lower taxes to help homeowners and a moratorium on growth to allow a halt to work on the wastewater system.
Hailey said he would have no problem working with Williams if elected. The two worked together during his own mayoral tenure, although their situations would be reversed if Hailey is successful in this election.
The former mayor feels his chances to win the council seat are good, given his experience. He praised his opponents for running, but felt that Cropper is inexperienced and Purnell, as a developer, has a conflict of interest.
“I can’t believe [Purnell is] able to run because he has business with the town at this time and contracts going back and forth. He should be disqualified by the elections committee,” Hailey said.
Sources had said Purnell was all along planning to run, but the developer waited until the last day to file.
“I just needed to take some time and make sure it was the right thing for me to do, and I decided it was,” Purnell said.
Purnell pointed to his experience, knowledge and leadership ability as reasons to vote for him. He plans, if elected, to take a business-like approach to running Berlin. Like a business, the town needs to plan for upcoming expenses, he said.
“There’s not been a lot of emphasis placed on that,” Purnell said. “Nobody was really planning that far ahead.”
The electric company is another important issue to Purnell.
“I don’t know all the facts. I’d love to know all of them,” Purnell said. “One way or the other, something has to be done.”
Purnell, who has extensive development interests in Berlin and on its border, said he sees no conflict of interest in running for office.
“If there’s a conflict of interest, obviously I’ll have to recuse myself. I’ve been dealing with that exact issue being on planning commissions since 1984,” Purnell said.
Purnell served on the Ocean City Planning Commission from 1984 to 1996, and then took up a post on the Worcester County Planning Commission in 1996 when he moved to Berlin, serving on that body until 2006.
Purnell said he plans to seek legal advice on any conflicts of interest if elected, but does not expect that to be a problem too often, pointing to the various meetings he has attended over the years and being unable to identify many cases when he would have to excuse himself from the discussion. Purnell said he has the same interests as the rest of Berlin, such as responsible spending and the town’s continued prosperity. “I think I can do a good job,” he said.
This is the first time Purnell has run for office. In an unusual step for Berlin politics, Purnell may hold a meet the candidate event. He also plans to campaign via Berlin political staples, going door-to-door, putting out mailings and lawn signs.
For his part, Cropper is also planning candidate events and looks forward to the upcoming challenge.
“It should make for an interesting race,” said Cropper, who was the only official candidate for a few weeks.
Of Purnell, Cropper said, “It’s concerning to have a developer on the council who’s going to have to remove himself from so many discussions and votes.”
As for Hailey, Cropper remarked, “He was mayor and he was voted out of office by the citizens of Berlin.”
He added, “I’m a new energy. We’re trying to get Berlin ready for the next generation…I have nothing to gain being on the council.”
Another person reportedly considering a run was Bill Outten, owner of Town Center Antiques and A Step Above on Main Street, considered running for the vacant council post. “I just decided I didn’t want to do it,” Outten said. “I have lots of irons in different pots.”
The number of candidates running for office in Berlin in the past few elections has shown a significant upswing. In the past, uncontested races were common.
“I’m glad. Some years, no one wants to run. We need people who are really interested,” said Hailey.
Of the competition for the seat he vacated to take the top office in town, Williams said, “I’m very pleased. Once again, we have a competitive race and I think that shows more interest by people and that’s healthy for the town.”
In the past, getting Berliners to run for office was like pulling teeth, the mayor said.
“I think that’s great that that many people are interested in running,” Outten said.