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Council members discuss concerns about deeply divided community

BUCKHANNON – As the city prepares to welcome a new mayor and a new council member at the start of the fiscal year, Buckhannon City Council members at their most recent meeting June 18, offered thanks to outgoing mayor David McCauley.

However, they also suggested the community needs to come together in the wake of a conflict-ridden, bitterly-fought campaign season.

Councilman CJ Rylands, who narrowly edged candidate Shelia Sines to retain his seat during the June 15 canvassing process, said if turf issues and personality conflicts can be resolved, he has hope for the city’s political future.

Rylands delivered prepared remarks during the council comments portion of the June 18 meeting.

“I find myself in a position of having to take my own advice,” he reflected. “I often tell folks that if you find someone talking ‘smack’ about you, the worst thing you can do is to tell them to stop it. The best thing to do is to ignore it and give them a little smirk – of course, that’s not the way we’re wired. You find yourself in a snare the more you fight, the more the snare tighten.”

In addition to several other individuals, Rylands was the subject of negative attack posts on social media.

“The tools of derision that we have witnessed in our national media have trickled down to our small town,” Rylands added. “I guess if manipulation, pandering and hypocrisy are effective, why not use them to get what you want? Well, Newton’s third law stated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Rylands said one action sets into motion another series of events.

“The metronome of politics swings both ways,” he remarked. “The further you push one way, the further [the other entity] pushes back the other way. We only have to look at our past two presidents to see that. It’s kind of like my golf game, if I hit it in the woods on the left and I make an adjustment, I hit it in the woods on the right. The goal is to keep the ball in the center of the fairways.”

Rylands, who was first elected to council in 2016, said city residents appear to be deeply divided.

“Today, there are a lot of folks who have set up camps in both sides of the woods, and they’re predisposed to be offended by anything that does not align with their point of view,” he said. “As long as drama and conflict sell, there will be folks generating it for you to consume.”

“The two biggest obstructions to effective community development are personality conflicts and turf issues,” he concluded. “To the extent that we can put these aside, we will successful.”

Councilwoman Mary Albaugh, city recorder Randy Sanders and councilwoman Pam Cuppari Bucklew expressed gratitude to outgoing mayor David McCauley for his thirty-some years of services as Buckhannon’s city attorney and the last four years as mayor.

Bucklew said she was grateful McCauley had put “his whole heart and soul” into the job.

“I just want to thank for all years of service you’ve given to the citizens and Buckhannon,” Bucklew said. “I appreciate everything you’ve tried to do or have done, and you’ve put your whole heart and soul into everything you do. I just want to wish you the best in your future endeavors, and you never know what might happen down the road.”

Like Rylands, mayor-elect Robbie Skinner said he hopes the community can find some common ground.

“It’s been an emotional 10 days with some highs and some lows,” said Skinner, who will be sworn in Wednesday. “I really hope that we can unify our community and continue to strive for excellence and continue our footprint in a progressive manner, from an economic standpoint, and continue the stride that has been put in place.”

Skinner said he was “proud to serve on a city council” with McCauley.

“I thank you sincerely for showing us, for showing myself, what leadership looks like,” Skinner said to McCauley. “We’ve battled school levies for passage together, all for positive things for our schools and for our community.”

“I hope that if some night you see my number pop up on your caller ID that that’ll be welcome because I’ve got a lot to learn still, and as many folks pointed out, the shoes are certainly big to fill,” Skinner added. “I’m looking forward to working with the new council and the city staff.”

Skinner, Sanders, Reger, Rylands and Bucklew will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 1 in city hall.

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