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Dick Heaton is Bardstown’s new mayor.
All five of his fellow council members voted Tuesday to name the former mayor the city’s chief executive to fill the rest of John Royalty’s term.
Royalty was thrown out of office for misconduct last week after a months-long investigation of an apparent vendetta against a council member.
“Our brand has been damaged but it’s not destroyed, and you all know what that brand is — the brand of America’s most beautiful small town,” Heaton said soon after he was sworn in.
Choosing a new mayor was the only item on the agenda for the special council meeting Tuesday afternoon, but the room was filled with Heaton’s family members, city employees and television reporters.
“Life does have some odd twists and turns,” Heaton said, as he took the mayor’s chair that he held from 2007 through 2010.
He mentioned that his grandfather, J.F. Conway, and uncle, Gus Wilson, had served as mayor before him, and he was honored to carry on a family tradition of public service.
“It’s somewhat expected,” he said, referencing an “obligation” to serve.
Heaton also noted that District Judge Jack Kelley, who administered the oath, had succeeded Heaton’s brother, Judge Bob Heaton, upon his death.
He thanked Kelley’s father, Councilman John Kelley, who led the investigation, and the other council members for their hard work over the past three and a half months and their confidence in him. He also expressed gratitude to his wife, Alice, their sons, Jonathan and Nicholas, for their sacrifices, and the people of Bardstown and Nelson County, including those who had encouraged him to accept the position.
“I do not want today and the days ahead to be about me or the person who previously occupied this position,” he said. “Starting immediately, this needs to be about us — all of us.”
“All of us need to be united in pulling in one direction to move our city forward to restore the confidence and trust of the citizens we serve.”
The new mayor asked the people to “be patient with us and not judge us by a few decisions we have to make. Judge us by the full body of work that we’re going to put forward in the coming months.
“We will work diligently to address the problems and try to correct them as quickly as possible, but we will have to give the time necessary to do the job right,” he said.
Heaton compared what has happened to Bardstown to a house that could be torn down in a matter of hours, but that it would take months to rebuild.
“That’s where we are today as a city,” he said, but promised to “renew Bardstown.”
Heaton said he is “excited about the future of Bardstown.” There has been “tremendous investment” in industry, including expansion of existing industries, the town has a “vibrant downtown,” and healthy small business economy, and it has experienced solid growth in tourism and hospitality year after year.
Each of the council members made comments.
“I think we made the right choice,” said Councilman Bill Sheckles, who was mayor after Heaton and before Royalty. Having served as mayor, he said, he knows it is hard, but he added that Heaton has a good, solid council to work with, and he expects that “we will see a lot of positive things happening in the next few months.”
Councilman Roland Williams, who nominated Heaton for the position, thanked him for saying yes to the request, and pledged his support.
Kelley thanked Heaton for “stepping up to the plate” and his fellow council members for “working together through this.”
“Hopefully, we’ll have all the media down reporting on the positive things” that will be coming,” he said.
Councilman Joe Buckman told Heaton he had proven himself as mayor the last time he served in what he did for downtown and the Main Street renovation.
“I think the biggest thing you bring to this is you have that passion for Bardstown, and that’s so important,” he said.
Councilwoman Kecia Copeland said she had not had a chance to work with Heaton until he became a councilman this year, but she considered him “a teacher,” and appreciated the passion for his community that Buckman had referenced.
“That will trickle down to us as well,” she said.
She also thanked the community for its support of the council during the ordeal, and said the city government now has the unity that will “carry Bardstown to the next level.”
“This is a big commitment on my part,” said Heaton, who has been involved in many civic endeavors since he decided not to run for re-election as mayor in 2010 because of a struggle with cancer.
He said he would be making phone calls to many organizations to explain to them that he won’t be able to be as involved as he has been, and he hopes they understand.
Heaton said he expects that at the City Council’s next regular meeting, there will be a vote to appoint someone to fill his vacated council seat. That meeting will be April 25 at 7 p.m.