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MILLS RIVER — In a surprise development, the Mills River Town Council passed over incumbent Mayor Roger Snyder and elected Larry Freeman as mayor on Thursday night.
Until about 7:15 on Thursday, Snyder had been the only mayor in the 10-year history of the town that covers the heart of the rich French Broad Valley farming community.
Although he looked shell-shocked, Snyder joined the other four members in voting for Freeman after council member Shanon Gonce nominated him and new council member Billy Johnston seconded the motion.
The Mills River Town Council elects the mayor from among the body; the office is not elected separately by voters. Asked whether council members had talked with him about electing someone else, Snyder said, "No, but I've heard."
In the organizational meeting after the election, Gonce's nomination was followed quickly by Johnston's second. Town Clerk Sue Powell polled members, and all voted for Freeman. The action came about so suddenly that Freeman had moved on to preside over the next agenda item before Snyder noted that Powell had failed to swear in the new mayor.
Snyder has been actively engaged in Mills River issues from farming to business to attending countywide political events. He insisted that he accepts the result with no ill will and agrees with the idea of changing leaders after 10 years.
"It doesn't bother me one bit. Mills River will go right along," he said.
He brushed aside the idea that losing the mayor's seat might present an opportunity to run for another office in 2014. His name has come up as a possible candidate for the Henderson County Board of Commissioners — he lives in the district now represented by Larry Young — and some might envision a rematch with state Rep. Chuck McGrady for the state House. Snyder said no to both.
"I've got some things going on at the house and so forth. I think it's a good change," he said. "As Lois (Pryor) said in one of the articles, new ideas and new blood and so forth" are helpful.
Freeman, who is news director of WHKP-1450 AM, said he had no proposals different from those Snyder had supported, nor any intention of changing direction.
"The only thing that I mentioned is that Mills River continue to grow as successfully as we have under Roger's leadership," he said.
Freeman denied that there had been any backroom plot to replace Snyder.
"How long have we been cooking this up? Just what you saw here tonight," he said. "I'm the just the one that was elected by other council members. I was elected to council to serve, whether as a council member or in some other capacity."
Can he spend as much time on being mayor of Mills River as Snyder has?
"Yes, hopefully I can," he said. "It's going to be a long a stretch but it can be done."
After electing Freeman mayor, the council unanimously elected Gonce as mayor pro tem.
Johnston, who defeated James Cantrell in the Nov. 5 election, was sworn into office in place of Lois Pryor, who retired. Freeman and Gonce both won re-election to new four-year terms without opposition.