Oak Grove Town Council members graciously bid farewell to Mayor Charles Merkel earlier this week upon his resignation from that office.
Merkel was in his second term as mayor, after a stint on the City Council and for years before that on the town’s Planning Commission.
Councilman David Harris said that the resignation certainly had nothing to do with his performance as mayor, and appreciated his respect for the council when there were disagreements. Mary Carter said he was still part of the family. Donald Coleman and Carl Armstrong echoed those sentiments. Pro-tem Tony White, who was sworn in as the new mayor, added that he appreciated that Merkel never took anything personally, and that he always worked for the betterment of Oak Grove.
Merkel said he had considered not running for office again last year, but when no one else qualified to run he decided to try to serve another term.
A self-employed businessman, he said his business needed more attention, and he felt he couldn’t give as much time to the office of mayor as it needed. The time had come to give it up.
For his first three years as mayor, he said he simply cut back on his primary job and worked as a full-time mayor for the job’s part-time salary of $1,000 per month. After that he had to put more time into his business, which has demanded more of his time in recent months.
Council members are paid much less than the mayor — the pro-tem is paid $250 per month and the other council members $200 per month.
Merkel said he enjoyed being mayor and trying to do the right thing for his town.
He said he’s proud of helping the community rediscover its identity and purpose, and hoped Oak Grove would grow, but not so fast that it loses its identity.
Part of that identity will be celebrated this Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., at the town’s annual Heritage and Music Festival, begun in 2010, with musicians, games and more. Last year Merkel gave the first public performance of “Hodges Meteorite,” a song he wrote retelling the story of the only meteorite in history that hit a person, and it happened in Oak Grove.
During Merkel’s term the town improved security, adding a second person to the town’s municipal patrol.
He worked with the town’s volunteer fire department to resolve a funding dispute and improve communications with the Talladega County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments.
A community garden was established, and so was a sewer board in an effort to bring about more affordable rates for customers in the town. There’s a possibility of an expanded role for the board down the road.
Small cities, towns, and other community organizations depend on civic-minded residents who are willing to give of themselves to help make things happen.
Tony White, a firefighter by profession, is now stepping into a new role as mayor. We wish Mayor White and the council members all the best in continuing their efforts to improve the quality of life for the residents of their community.