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Tharp to step down

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Bedford Mayor Skip Tharp told City Council last week he will step down from his duties as mayor at the end of this year.

    "I've thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it," Tharp said of his service as mayor. But now he's ready to step aside and let someone else lead the way.
    Tharp   has  served  as  Bedford  mayor since 2007. He was originally elected to council in 1992, serving until 1998. After a two-year break he rejoined council in 2000 and served as vice mayor from 2003 to 2007.
    Though Tharp, chairman and director of Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, is stepping down as mayor, he will remain on council. Tharp was re-elected this past November. Mayor and vice mayor are selected by council during its reorganization meeting at the first of the year held every two years.
    Tharp looks back at leading the charge to get the city’s reversion to town status accomplished as his biggest achievement. That’s set to take place July 1 of next year.
    He recalls a time in the process when the talks with Bedford County on the voluntary reversion proposal had come to a screeching halt. Nothing was happening.
    Tharp called his counterpart with the Bedford County Board of Supervisors out for what became known as the Chick-fil-A Summit. Within less than two hours a plan was put in place that both governmental bodies could support.
    Assuming no hitches spring up over the next several months, Tharp said reversion will prove to be historic for Bedford. “This is a great time to step back from the leadership role,” he said.
    Tharp enjoys the political arena—“I have a passion for it,” he said—but he’s ready for a break. Just what that means is yet to be determined. Tharp said he will watch to see how the county decides to incorporate Bedford into its political structure. The county supervisors are considering a number of options—either keeping a seven-district county, splitting Bedford between two districts or creating an eighth district solely for the town.
    The next big item on council’s agenda will be drawing up a charter for the town, deciding what the town needs to provide and what other services residents will want. That will help council set the tax rate as it moves forward.
    The fact is all city council members will step down, assuming reversion occurs, midway through next year. A town council election will be held in May of next year to select the leadership for the newly created town.
    A three-judge panel will take up the reversion agreement Dec. 18, the last big hurdle in the reversion process. But even that seems a formality, considering the glowing reviews the proposal received when the Council on Local Government conducted its study on the agreement.
    Tharp said council has worked over the years to consistently upgrade the city’s electric department and has also been improving the water and sewer systems. “We’re doing things, infrastructure wise, that people don’t see,” he said.
    There have been some suggestions that the the mayor of the newly created town should be elected by citizens’ vote, instead of the current practice of being appointed by council. “There are merits to doing it either way,” he said.
    When Tharp announced his decision at last Tuesday’s meeting, other council members voiced positive comments about his leadership over the past five years. “That was very heartwarming,” Tharp said. “It was kind of a melancholy moment.”
    Tharp said a lot of work goes into preparing for the two council meetings each month, in addition to the other duties the mayor performs. “It felt like the right time to back down,” he said.