Pritchett to fill seat
By By Adam Prestridge
The council seat left vacant by the death of veteran councilman John Watkins last week was filled Friday morning during a special called Atmore city council meeting.
The council voted unanimously to appoint former councilman Edred Pritchett to occupy the seat for the duration of Watkins' term.
The council made the appointment with heavy hearts; the day after Watkins was laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery with military honors.
"Today we are here to fulfill a task that's not a very pleasant duty at all," mayor Howard Shell said during the 8:30 a.m. meeting. "This is the first time in all the years that I have been associated with the city that we have had the unfortunate situation of one of our members passing on and us having to find someone to fill that position. To say that we're going to replace John Watkins is not an accurate statement. We are going to select someone to occupy the position that he held as councilman of place two for the remaining of his term."
Watkins, 79, passed away Jan. 10 at Atmore Community Hospital after a bout with pneumonia. He was in his 16th year as a councilman.
Friday afternoon, Pritchett, 80, said he feels privileged to have been voted to the council.
"I'm definitely honored," Pritchett said. "Councilman Watkins' shoes will be big ones to fill. I hope I can continue the work he has started. He served the community well and I hope I'll be able to continue that type of service. I look forward to it. I have a lot of love and respect for this community and I have a lot of love, respect and admiration for the people who are here."
Shell said that each of the remaining four councilmen and himself received phone calls last week from concerned citizens with suggestions of a fill-in.
"We had many names mentioned to us," he said. "We had people to call and offer their services. Each councilmember here have been contacted by different people that have been willing to step forward and perform that task and to each one of these people, we certainly appreciate their willingness to act on behalf of their community and the people that they are willing to serve."
Pritchett said he did not accept the appointment without first knowing that Watkins' wife, Veola, did not want to carry out the remaining portion of her husband of 55 year's term.
"We have incurred expenses, debt and projects that are going to carry us into the future," Shell said. "We are dealing with details of operating a city and it's going to take all of the experience that we can gather to get this job done."
The council believes Pritchett's past experience on the council will be a positive for the city. Pritchett is well aware of this and, in fact, his experience is one of the two reasons he agreed to serve again.
"One reason I agreed to fill the seat is the years of experience that I have," Pritchett said. "Secondly, my love I have for the community. I had several people contact me and encourage me to accept the appointment."
Pritchett served the Atmore city council for 18 years. He first ran for election in 1976 and was elected to four terms. He ran for mayor in 1992, losing to Shell. Pritchett filling in for Watkins completes a full circle for both men.
"In 1992, when I ran for mayor, I asked councilman Watkins to take my place," Pritchett said. "Over his tenure, we've been conversing. He was a longtime friend."
Pritchett now has the opportunity to finish his dear friend's term.
"Mr. Pritchett has got the experience and the background," Shell said. "He's knows the mechanics of how a city runs."
As for elections later this year, Pritchett said he is undecided if he will try for re-election.
"I'll take a long, hard look at it and it will depend on my health and my wife's health to whether I'll seek election," he said.