Town manager leaving for Bedford economic development position
Buchanan Town Council is meeting this evening (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. in a called meeting to act on the resignation of Town Manager Mary Zirkle.
A brief notice of the meeting last week announced Zirkle’s resignation.
She said in an email, she’ll be joining the Town of Bedford as its economic development director.
The Buchanan town manager’s position has been the subject of debate and several at-times contentious council meetings and public hearings as council discussed possible Town Charter changes, one of which dealt with a town manager’s residency requirements.
Last month, council voted 3-2 to not ask the General Assembly to change that part of the Town Charter.
Many residents who spoke during a public hearing and council meeting about the proposed charter change said their interest in keeping the residency requirement was not a reflection on Zirkle or her work for the town, rather their interest in having a town manager who lived exclusively in Buchanan.
Others worried that it would be difficult to fill the town manager position with a qualified applicant by having what they consider a strict residency requirement in the charter.
The Town Charter reads, “At the time of appointment, he need not be a resident of the town or of the Commonwealth, but during his tenure of office the town manager shall reside within the town limits.”
Zirkle was hired in 2014. Under the contract with the town, she agreed to purchase a home in the town limits but she would still maintain a residence in Bedford County where she and her husband have a farm.
Town Attorney Joe Obenshain’s opinion is that Zirkle met the terms of the charter by owning a residence in town.
While Zirkle got the full endorsement of Town Council when she was hired in the fall of 2014 and again when her contract was renewed in June of this year, the residency question became controversial earlier this year when Mayor Larry Hall asked that the Town Charter be changed so it was clear that simply owning a residence in town was sufficient for the town manager position.
Vice-Mayor Jamie Manspile didn’t feel it was necessary to make that change, and those differences twice led to a 3-2 vote against the change— once at a council work session about proposed charter changes and at the formal council meeting in October.
Zirkle became Buchanan’s first town manager on October 1, 2014 after working as a Roanoke County planner.
Zirkle was the unanimous choice of a search committee that included now-former council member Diane DePalma, Mayor Larry Hall, then-former council members Mike Burton and Carson Skaggs, current Buchanan District Board of Supervisors member John Williamson and former Botetourt County Administrator Jerry Burgess.
When Zirkle was hired, DiPalma said the committee met several times over that summer to narrow the search from among 20 candidates who applied for the job. The committee interviewed three finalists and Zirkle was the committee’s choice.
As town manager, Zirkle has established a business owners committee, applied for grants, helped the town weather the fallout from an unsuccessful federal lawsuit initiated by a business/property owner couple on Main Street, applied for Virginia “Main Street Affiliate” status through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, managed the town office and worked with the town’s special events and Buchanan Community Carnival.
When council agreed to include funding for a town manager position in 2014, Hall and former Mayor Rex Kelly said the town needed someone knowledgeable to handle the zoning codes and citizens’ requests.
For two centuries, the mayor had been the head administrator for the town, and for decades has had to devote considerable time to managing the town and the water and sewer systems. Hall and previous mayors such as Kelly and Tom Middlecamp spent many hours each week on town administrative duties for a salary of $100 a month.
Hall said at the time when first offering a budget that included the town manager position that the recommendation is not a criticism of any other town employee, but an effort to hire someone with the expertise the budget committee felt the town needs.