BUCKHANNON – Prioritizing unfinished municipal projects and working to heal the divisiveness that is festering within the Buckhannon-Upshur community through face-to-face discussions are two top items on Robbie Skinner’s to-do list.
Skinner was sworn in as mayor of Buckhannon this week, taking the reins from David McCauley who served since May 2016 as mayor and as city attorney for 30-plus years before that.
Skinner was sworn in as mayor at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, while Pam Bucklew, CJ Rylands and Jack Reger were sworn in as city council members earlier that day at 10 a.m.
But prior to all those swearings-in, city recorder Randy Sanders, who administers the oaths of office to all other officeholders, was sworn in by assistant city recorder and finance/administrative director Amberle Jenkins.
Skinner said he was a little overwhelmed after the swearing-in but is ready to get to work.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” he said. “I am overwhelmed, but I am looking forward to working with our council, our department heads, and I am so appreciative of the voters for giving me the opportunity to serve.”
“I don’t want to let anybody down, so I want to make sure every decision and every action that is made is going to be well thought-out, and we need to make sure we carefully consider the community’s future,” Skinner added.
He said his first task as mayor will be to draft a list of priorities and try to finish outstanding community projects.
“Under the previous administration, which I was part of, we started a lot of projects,” Skinner said. “We need to see those projects through. We need to prioritize them, focus on what we can get done in the short-term, mid-term and long-term because I don’t want to keep perpetuating having things left undone. We need to complete projects before we move on to anything else.”
He said one change he definitely wants to implement is ensuring all city council members are consulted before decisions are made.
“As a council member, (Skinner was elected to council in 2016), I learned a lot about our city’s government and how it functions, and I didn’t always feel the council was consulted as much as it could have been,” Skinner said. “There were a lot of decisions made that didn’t always involve the council, and I want to involve our council because this community did not just elect a mayor – they elected seven people.”
“Any member of our community should be able to approach any member of council or myself, and we should be able to find the solution without it having to come through me,” he continued.
Skinner also acknowledged the need to heal the political and cultural division in the U.S. today and in the Buckhannon-Upshur community.
“From a nation to a state to even a small town, we have an extremely divided society,” Skinner said. “It is toxic on both sides because when the two sides clash, it’s like the Midwest during tornado season, and we have got to calm the seas. We’ve got to put the fires out, and we’ve got to bring the folks in this community back together.”
He said as a starting point, different groups need to come together and try to find a way forward.
“We need to have sit-down conversation with a lot of different groups, and I think those groups need to come together at the same table, and let’s try to figure out a way forward that is not intrusive on anybody’s rights because as human beings, we all have the right to feel welcome here, and I do not want anyone to feel they are not welcome here. I believe we are a welcoming community,” Skinner said.
He wanted to encourage the community attend council meetings when they have an idea or grievance, rather than only voicing concerns on social media.
“This community is a family, and we are going to operate it as a family,” Skinner said. “We’re not always going to agree, and I hope that when we don’t agree, we can have civil discourse, and folks will come physically to our meetings, physically to our offices, meet with our council members, meet with myself, to discuss the issues. We, as a governmental body, don’t hang out on social media just waiting for those comments and complaints to come in.”
Skinner said it’s the council’s responsibility to try to bring everyone back together.
“I’m a centrist,” he said. “I’m right down the middle, so I try to see things from both angles and what that basically translates to is, I just make everybody mad with everything that I do because I’m not right enough and I’m not left enough,” Skinner said. “As a council, as a governmental body, as citizens, we have a responsibility over the next several years to try to bring the residents back together.”
New city council member Jack Reger said he wants to make sure Buckhannon is prosperous now and in the future.
“I just want to be a person of positive change and progress,” he commented. “I want to see Buckhannon flourish today, and I want to see it flourish in the future. I want my kids to remain here and my grandkids to remain here, so they have productive and meaningful opportunities.”
“We have to work toward that end, as well as take care of current citizens and issues today,” Reger added.
Reger said he does not have one project that takes precedence over another because all city projects are important.
“The secretaries and clerks who work in this office are important, the operator running that bulldozer at midnight, in five-degree-below-zero weather to fix a water leak is important, so all city issues are important. There’s nothing insignificant,” Reger said. “Everything has to be a priority, and I think building trust or maintaining trust within the community and in surrounding areas is important.”