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And Now You Know: Another “Unique” City Election in July 1957

Mike Louviere
And Now You Know

Reporting on the Orange city election held in July 1957, Orange Leader city editor Bob Axleson wrote: “A political novice and a once-defeated municipal candidate were swept into city commission office yesterday by what political observers lauded as a “landslide negative vote.”

Alfred E. Miller, a 30-year-old maintenance mechanic at Spencer Chemical and R. N. (Bob) Whitehead, a 32-year-old Firestone safety supervisor, won places on the Orange City Commission by a near two to one majority.

George Colburn, Ward 4, seeking reelection for a third term and Andrew (Andy) Boyd of Ward 2 were the defeated candidates. The strong factor in the election was an exceptionally light vote of only 1686 votes cast. There were 7040 registered voters in the city limits.

The vote was interpreted as a mandate from Orange voters to oust city manager Gene Gatlin. Gatlin had served as city manager since May 16, 1955. Gatlin’s removal from office was the key issue in what was otherwise a relatively quiet campaign.

Both Miller and Whitehead had pledged in their campaign statements to support and vote for the employment of a new city manager. Neither Boyd or Coleman had issued any public statements on the question, emphasizing that they were both “running on their record and desire to complete projects started.”

Miller received 985 votes to 633 for Boyd. Whitehead led the ticket with 1045 votes while Coleman only drew 579. Neither candidate carried his home box. Both of the two outgoing candidates won only one box, Precinct 10, Pine Grove. The Pine Grove box had a voting strength of 700 votes, the largest in the city. Its area at that time consisted of an area of newly built subdivisions and custom built homes.

Votes cast in that precinct totaled 266 with 87 for Miller, 174 for Boyd, 95 for Whitehead, and 166 for Coleman. There was one write in vote for Bob Axleson, the Leader city editor.

A strong factor in the large negative voting was the activity of city employees and the influence they brought to bear on their friends.

The first box to report was the courthouse box at 7:14 p.m. followed by Navy Park at 7:16 p.m. and ending with the Jones School box at 8:14 p.m.  With the first eight of 12 boxes counted; it was apparent that the two incumbents were defeated.

Gatlin was present during the early part of the evening but left as soon as the trend was evident.

Gatlin was unavailable for comment the day after the election about his future status in Orange. He arrived at his office early that morning; but left soon after his arrival. He declined to answer calls left at his office prior to his arrival.

His secretary, Mrs. Hoy Gunstream, was uncertain where he was or if he would be returning to his office.

Gatlin was employed at a salary of $10,000 annually. He came to Orange from Gilmer, Texas on May 16, 1955. He had served as city manager at Gilmer, replacing Ralph Wolf who had resigned due to ill health. Gatlin was 39-years-old and had served as Gilmer city manager for 10 years. He had spent five years in other municipal departments after being initially hired as a fire fighter for the Gilmer Fire Department.

The vote in Orange for the two candidates who had pledged to unseat him was interpreted to mean that his resignation would be forthcoming in the immediate future. At least one other city commissioner had expressed a private opinion to friends that “Gatlin has to go if the council-manager system is to survive.”

It was expected that the remaining commissioners would follow the voting results and proceed to take steps in the same direction.

In the 1956 city election, the key issue was the preservation of the city commission-city manager system. In the 1957 city election, the prime question was Gatlin’s ability to serve as city manager.

The 12 voting boxes in 1957 were located at the Orange County Courthouse, Masonic Temple, Central Fire Station, West Riverside, East Riverside, Navy Park, Burton Fire Station, Pine Grove, Anderson School, Jones School, Carr Jr. High, and Roselawn.

“And now you know.”