Baker’s fellow council members voted in a called meeting Friday for him to replace Rick Freeman, who resigned as mayor Wednesday, citing health problems. Freeman had been elected in November.
It was the second time fellow council members voted for Baker to lead the city, an honor he said means a great deal to him.
Baker was appointed mayor in 1996 when fellow council members voted him as a replacement for then-Mayor Vera Stewart, who died of pneumonia before her term ended. He ran for mayor during the next election but lost in a runoff.
“I always cared about Piedmont. I always wanted to make it a better place to live, and I love the people,” Baker said Friday.
Municipal law allowed the council to appoint a council member or resident to replace Freeman.
Councilwoman Brenda Spears did not attend Friday’s meeting, but the remaining members voted unanimously for Baker. The council will later appoint someone to replace Baker as representative of the city’s 6th district.
It was his mother’s own term as a Piedmont councilwoman that spurred his interest in running for office, Baker said. Edna Baker served on the council in the 1980s.
Baker, 63, was first elected to the council in 1988. Since then, he’s served on the council for all but a portion of one term.
Remarkably, Friday also marks the second time Baker has replaced Freeman in public office. The year Baker ran for mayor and lost, Freeman was elected to represent Baker’s district on the council. Freeman resigned before finishing his term and Baker was appointed his replacement.
During the last 25 years those few months between losing the mayoral race and replacing Freeman were the only Baker did not serve as a council member.
“I never ran for mayor again, but I’ve had two times as mayor and never ran for either one of them,” Baker said.
A native of New York, Baker moved to Piedmont with his family in 1963. He retired in 2010 from the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources after 36 years as a social worker. He is currently activities director at Piedmont Health Care.
“Like anybody that’s ever served in any capacity with the city, I want to see more jobs,” Baker said. “And we definitely want to beef up abatement and clean up Piedmont, and continue to keep the good things we’ve got going in the city.
“We’ve got a great school system, and we have good people that live here. I just want to serve them and help them with what they need and deserve, and by that, I especially mean jobs,” Baker said.
Councilman Kenny Kelley said Baker was an easy selection and will make an excellent mayor.
“He’s got over 20-plus years on the council,” Kelley said. “And he’s done an excellent job as mayor pro tem for many years.”
As a council member, Baker often acted as a mediator when conversations strayed or tempers flared.
“I think that’s the social worker in me that comes out,” Baker said, when asked about his tendency to speak up when needed.
“Over the years I hope I’ve developed some good people skills, and I hope that they come across. At least every once in a while,” he said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.