Editorial – Smithfield should elect its mayor

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Count us among those pleased with the Smithfield Town Council’s selection of Steve Bowman as the town’s next mayor.

Coming just a couple of months after voters overwhelmingly made him the top vote-getter in the 2022 election, Bowman’s unanimous support by his council colleagues speaks to the tremendous respect he has earned during his decades of service as a law enforcement officer and government administrator. We don’t know of many others who would be a unanimous choice as mayor in their very first year on the Town Council. We congratulate him and wish him well in the role.

With no disrespect intended toward Bowman, we do hope that last week’s mayoral vote by the council was its last. It’s time to put that important decision directly in the hands of voters.

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The current system of letting the council pick its leader and give that person the title of mayor was well intended and probably the right one at the time it was adopted decades ago. Smithfield was a quaint, sleepy town with little ambition to be more. Town government, in turn, was an uneventful enterprise that just needed steady elected leadership to serve the citizenry and keep things from turning south.

That all has changed over the past couple of years. The Town Council’s approval of an 800-plus-home subdivision on the town’s eastern edge and upcoming consideration of a huge residential and commercial mixed-use community on the edge of the historic district will change Smithfield in ways that will be hard for old-timers to fathom.

For the record, we don’t necessarily assume or concede that the coming change will be bad for the town. Smart, thoughtful, visionary leadership has a chance to help Smithfield grow without losing the charm and excellent quality of life its residents love and appreciate.

But as town government becomes bigger and its politics more complex, it will be essential for the top leader to be directly accountable to voters, who should have a chance every four years to bless or alter the town’s direction by picking their mayor.

We hope that Bowman and council newcomer Jeff Brooks, who ran on platforms of more transparency and accountability in town government, will lead the push for an elected mayor.