Richmond Hill filled one city council seat Tuesday night, appointing longtime planning commissioner Les Fussell to the Post 4 seat being vacated by the departure of two-term councilwoman Jan Bass, who is moving to Tennessee.
Fussell's appointment followed a roughly 25-minute executive session for personnel and legal issues, and then the resignation in open session of two-term Post 3 Councilman John Fesperman, two months after other council members and Mayor Russ Carpenter publicly called for him to step down over residency issues.
Fesperman, a golf pro, now works in Columbus and lives there at least part time, a move that Carpenter, Mayor Pro Tem Tara Baraniak and Bass said prompted them to publicly call for him to step down in January. Fesperman initially refused to resign, citing his ability to make meetings and his desire to continue to represent constituents.
He said then his questioning of decisions led to the call for his resignation.
Tuesday night, Fesperman simply announced he was stepping down, which prompted Carpenter to thank him for his service and wish him well, then announce the city would again be accepting applications for city council.
Fesperman then made a motion to appoint Fussell to replace Bass.
A retired Air Force veteran and a senior manager at Gulf Stream, Fussell said he has considered running for council in the past but decided to submit his resume after he learned of Bass’ resignation.
He’s lived with his family in Richmond Hill since 1993 and has been on the planning commission since 2003, during which time he helped the city rewrite its overall planning and zoning ordinance approved in May 2017 by city council. His resume notes he's a certified professoinal manager, a Leadership Bryan graduate and completed a number of seminars on planning and zoning from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute. He's served three mayors and was on the city's comprehensive land use plan committee.
That experience and his ability to “hit the ground running,” was one reason he was selected, Baraniak said.
“People have said we needed to have someone on council with a fresh perspective and fresh eyes,” she said, calling Fussell both level headed and someone who's helped her learn planning issues. “I think he’ll have that perspective. I think he’ll challenge us in very positive ways.”
At one point Fussell’s swearing in, Carpenter noted that Fussell wasn’t appointed to go along with whatever others in city government wanted.
"Anybody who knows Les Fussell knows he's isn't a yes man," Carpenter said.
Fussell agreed with that assessment afterward.
“I am not a yes man. I want to know the facts, I do my homework and I form my own opinions, based on my values, and the laws and ordinances of the city,” he said, noting he’s had to make recommendations on the planning commission that didn’t make his neighbors happy.
“It wasn’t because they were my neighbors and I didn’t like them, it was because that’s what the ordinances required,” Fussell said.
He was selected over four other candidates, each of whom submitted resumes: The others were Bruce Ford, an executive chef who most recently worked at Ole Miss as an operations director for its athletic venues; Lavetris Singleton, the academic affairs coordinator at Savannah State University, Steve Scholar, the current chairman of the Bryan County Planning and Zoning Commission, a former city planning and zoning director for Richmond Hill, as well as an Air Force veteran and longtime local journalist, and financial planner Ronald Murphy, Johnny Murphy’s brother, owner of an investment company, Burnt Corn Investments, LLC, and a veteran who earned a Bronze Star, according to his resume.
"The city owes each of you a debt of gratitude," Carpenter said.
Each was encouraged to stay involved in local issues and to run for the seat in November, while also invited to submit resumes to fill the remainder of Fesperman’s term. The deadline to apply for that seat is March 12.
The city council can appoint replacements for Bass and Fesperman because both had less than a year left on their terms, which expire in December. Otherwise, as in the case of the vacant Post 1 seat formerly held by the late Johnny Murphy, whose term was up in December 2021, a special election must be held.
Six candidates are vying for the Post 1 seat left vacant by Murphy’s death in December. A special election will be held March 19.