Council reacts to Berger announcement

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Most pledge support but some have concerns

By Marty Finley

The majority of Elizabethtown City Council vocally supported Mayor Edna Berger’s decision to run for a full four- year term in November, but a few said they have mixed emotions or misgivings about the announcement.

In discussions with all six council members Monday, surprise and concern surfaced about Berger’s decision to press on as mayor after she fulfills her appointment at the end of the year.

Berger unanimously was appointed in July by the council to fill the remaining 18 months of Tim Walker’s term after his sudden death in June. She told the legislative body she would retire from politics to spend time with her husband and family once the term ends in December.

However, Berger’s husband, Charlie Hall, died late last year after a hospitalization, forcing her to re-evaluate the future.

Councilman Tony Bishop said he had no insight into Berger’s decision but was happy to hear she had changed her mind.

“I’m proud for her,” said Bishop, who withdrew his nomination for the mayoral appointment last year to support Berger. “… In fact, I was going to talk to her and try to change her mind.”

Bishop said Berger still has issues she wants to tackle, including a vision for a revitalized downtown Bishop shares.

When asked if the council would have changed its mind on Berger had it known she would run again, he said he was not sure.

“It’s hard to tell,” Bishop said. “I really can’t say.”

Councilman Ron Thomas said he was not surprised by Berger’s decision to run after the death of her husband because it completely changed her set of circumstances.

“I knew she had always been a very active person,” he said.

Thomas said he supports her decision to run and does not believe it would have made much of a difference on the council’s decision had she said she wanted to run for the office.

But Thomas said the announcement may impact who, if anyone, challenges her in November.

“I will be very, very surprised if anyone chooses to run against her,” he said. “… I can say it definitely won’t be me.”

Councilman Marty Fulkerson said he had given consideration to running but encouraged Berger to pursue a full term.

“I support her and I will support her,” he said. “I’m also smart enough not to run against her.”

While they have disagreed on some issues and will likely do so again, Fulkerson said he is satisfied with the job Berger has done and respects her convictions and willingness to stand up for herself, facing down those who try to bully her. Fulkerson said the council appointed Berger based on the information they had available at the time.

“Time changes everything,” he said.

An opponent may step up and try to claim she broke her promise as a way to discredit her during the election, but Fulkerson said it would be an ill-advised move. Berger has proven popular in the last two council elections as a top vote-getter.

But Councilman Bill Bennett said he has heard rumors some prominent figures in the community may have aspirations to be mayor and could have the connections and financial resources to beat Berger. Bennett declined to identify the potential candidate or candidates.

“In the world of politics, running for city council is different than running for mayor,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he was unaware of Berger’s decision to run before the announcement and was torn on how he feels about it. While he does not mind Berger being mayor and would support her fully if she is elected, Bennett said she made a promise to the council she would step aside after the term was through.

“I have mixed feelings on the matter,” he said.

Ultimately, Bennett said he wants to work with whomever is elected to progress Elizabethtown as a city and put politics aside.

Councilman Kenny Lewis said he has a problem with Berger’s decision because it creates an uneven playing field, giving her an edge as an incumbent. The council was led to believe the playing field would be even by appointing Berger because of her impending retirement, he said.

Berger could not have foreseen the death of her husband, Lewis said, but her promise did not hinge on conditions nor did she leave room for a change of heart.

“I think I would have stuck to my word” in that situation, Lewis said.

He heard rumors Berger may be considering a run, but said he learned about it Sunday when he picked up the newspaper.

“She didn’t tell me, which doesn’t surprise me any,” Lewis said.

Councilman Terry Shipp was appointed to replace Berger on the council shortly after she became mayor and said he was not overly surprised by her decision to run because the death of her husband was such a life-altering moment.

“As life changes, plans change,” he said.

Berger announcing her position early, he said, will help others who may be contemplating running because there has been a lot of chatter regarding the next mayoral candidates.

“Uncertainty is a bad thing,” he said.

And while Shipp was not privy to the conversations surrounding her appointment and her promise to step away, Berger changing her mind does not bother him, he said.

“If she had made the promise to me, I (would) give her a pass on this one,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.