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Two votes separate Top 3 in Norris race

Four of the five current Norris City Council members will be returning for another two years after last week’s city election, and will be joined by newcomer Charles “Chuck” Nicholson.

Nicholson has been serving as chairman of the Norris Tree Commission.

The returning members are Mayor Chris Mitchell, Vice Mayor Bill Grieve, Loretta Painter and Will Grinder.

Surprisingly, the vote count among the top three candidates was extremely close – just a total of two votes apart.

Grinder topped the field with 496 votes, followed by Nicholson with 495 and Mitchell with 494. In fourth place was Grieve, with 468 votes, followed by Painter, the only woman on the council, with 460.

What that means for the selection of a mayor and vice mayor for the next two years remains to be seen.

Traditionally in Norris, the council chooses the top vote-getter as mayor, and the No. 2 winner as vice mayor.

Two years ago, however, challengers Grinder and Jill Holland Ryan outpolled Mitchell by larger margins – with Grinder polling 654 to Ryan’s 646 and Mitchell’s 625 votes. Grieve was in fourth place, with 604 votes, followed by Painter with 561.

And in a break with tradition, the council voted in split decisions to give Mitchell the mayor’s job for two more years, and Grieve was chosen as vice mayor, turning down Grinder’s push to be mayor and Ryan’s expectation of being vice mayor.

Whether the new council – with just the one new member – will again break with tradition this year and at least keep Mitchell as mayor will not be decided until the new council is sworn in at the beginning of the Dec. 12 meeting.

Some observers have suggested that the vote difference this time is so narrow that the choice might not be as controversial as it was two years ago.

Grinder, though, has a different view, he told The Courier News on Tuesday morning.

“I would like to see council follow tradition and pick the highest person [for mayer],” he said. “I think that’s what the citizens want. I believe I’m ready to be mayor.

“There’s a lot of people in Norris who would like to see that,” he added.

Although six candidates had filed by the Aug. 18 deadline to seek the five open council seats in the Nov. 8 election, one current council member, Robert M. Sain, later withdrew from the race, leaving just five candidates running for the five seats.

That most likely accounted for the lower turnout for the council election this year.

This election was Nicholson’s second attempt at joining the council. He was one of two people who applied in October 2021 to fill the unexpired term of Ryan, who resigned a month earlier, before completing even the first year of her first term.

The other four council members chose Sain, a corporate lawyer, over Nicholson in November 2021 to fill out Ryan’s unexpired term.

Nicholson was at odds with now former City Manager Scott Hackler and the council over Hackler’s decision last year to have the historic elm tree in the downtown Norris Commons area cut down over safety concerns.

Ryan joined Nicholson and other members of the Tree Commission in opposing cutting down the tree, even though a tree expert hired by the city said it was not safe and could have fallen over at any time without notice. The council took no official action on the issue, saying that it was the city manager’s ultimate decision.