Neal prepares to take office of mayor, ready for a “new start”

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – As the dust settles following last week’s primary election, a Beckley businessman is preparing to take the office of mayor.

Ryan Neal came just five percentage points from winning with an outright majority, defined by winning 50 percent of the vote. Coming in second was attorney and former council member Robert Dunlap, who won 946 votes.

Marvin Robinson won 700 votes, Michael Enrique Smith captured 87 votes, and Matt Lahn finished just behind with 86 votes.

Neal said that he is friends with the outgoing mayor, Rob Rappold, and wouldn’t have run against him. However, he does think Beckley’s government needs some new ideas.

“I think the sky’s the limit for Berkeley. I think it’s an exciting time,” Neal said.

The election comes during a tumultuous time for Beckley. The current city government has gotten pushback for several issues, ranging from a proposal to designate Beckley as an inclusive recovery city to the decision to establish a city manager and move away from a strong mayor style of government.

Three incumbent council members, Sherrie Hunter, Cody Reedy, and Janine “FeeFee” Bullock, were re-elected.

Tom Sopher ran for re-election and finished third in Ward 1. Natalie Coots won, and Kristin O’Neal came in second. The three candidates were separated by fewer than 200 votes.

Ward 2 council member Kevin Price did not run for re-election. Nancy Shoemaker-Dingess was elected to replace him.

In Ward 3, incumbent Robert Dunlap chose to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election. In a tight race, Frank Williams beat Tom Moseley by just nine votes. Emily Tate and Arran Adams placed third and fourth, respectively.

As mayor-elect, Neal is excited to work with the existing and new council members. In his eyes, it’s a chance to bring in new people.

“Any time you can bring in new people you get new ideas. I know most of the people on city council now, and I think they’re all great people,” Neal said. “I think it’s an exciting time for our city, and we look forward to getting started. I’ve talked to several people that’s coming on that I’ve known for years. Some I’ve known for decades, and I think we’ve got a great cast of people that’s going to be in charge.”

Neal will have to help guide the city through several projects. The biggest could well be the transition to a city manager style of government. The city has been holding workshops, and council is working on the hiring process.

Neal has been attending council meetings and following the process for months now. He said the council may need to go outside city limits to find someone qualified. There are pros and cons to that, he said.

“I would like to have somebody who has lived in the city and everybody knows and likes. On the flip side, if you bring something in from out of state, you’re probably going to bring in somebody from Asheville, Charlotte, or some thriving community or area that has a lot of experience and help lift up the city,” Neal said.

Neal has other priorities that he wants to work to address, as well. A major concern is panhandling, safety concerns, and other problems cropping up throughout the city. Addressing those will both help people in need while also boosting the city’s overall presence.

“If you make the city more appealing and more people come to it, there’s gonna be new businesses that come in. We want to make it so attractive that investors want to come here and set up shop,” Neal said. Beckley has kind of an old feel to it. We want to try to make it look young. We want to bring in new things. We have the college here, and that’s amazing.”

A big part of that is giving Beckley a bigger presence in the growing tourism industry in southern West Virginia. The city’s proximity to the New River Gorge National Park gives it potential. The city just has to figure out how to capitalize on it.

“Now through Labor Day, you’re going to have so many tourists in our area. But are they spending time in Beckley, or are they on the outskirts of Berkeley? We want to figure out how to bring it into Beckley,” Neal said.

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