Willey resigns on 'high note'

Millville Mayor Gary Willey publicly announced on Tuesday that he will resign his mayoral post on Sept. 1 after building a home with plans to move outside of town. Willey said that he and his family plan to move into the home — which only sits about 55 feet outside of town limits — in the middle of September.

Willey — a third-generation Millville mayor — was elected mayor in 1997 after a 15-year stint as a town councilman. Longtime councilman Tim Droney will serve as interim mayor until next March’s election.

“It’s real hard stepping down after all of these years,” Willey said. “I’m real proud of what’s taken place in the town of Millville. We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount.”

Council unanimously appointed Droney as vice-mayor on Tuesday, allowing for a smooth transition in September. Droney has served as a councilman since March of 1987 and has also worked as the town’s building inspector and code enforcement official.

“He’ll do a wonderful job for the town,” Willey said of Droney on Tuesday. “He’s devoted. He knows the system and he’ll work well with the people.

“It’s an honor to take over,” Droney said. “I’ll do the best I can do.” But, he added, “I’m sorry to see (Willey) go. He’s sat on my left side for 19 years. We’ve been good friends.”

Growing up watching his father and his grandfather serve as mayors of the small Sussex town, Willey said that he had no interest in hometown politics. Much like his sons now, Willey said, he did not know the importance of working with the town.

“Just like my boys now, they don’t really get involved in it I didn’t those days,” Willey said, adding, though, that he does remember when Millville’s council met in the fire hall. “But as I got older and more mature, I knew the importance on governing the way the town was going to go in the future.”

When Willey took over in 1997, town officials were stuck in a small 20-by-24-foot town “hall” with no running water and had less than $1,000 in a checking account. Things have changed a bit in nine years.

Millville’s checking account is approaching $2 million and will grow dramatically in coming weeks — or even days. And the town’s employee’s work in a roomy 3,000 square foot town hall just off of Route 26. And more than $70,000 is already earmarked for a police department.

Remembering a time not long ago, when Ocean View and other surrounding towns threatened to take Millville over, Willey said he is proud of where the town has gone in his tenure at its helm.

“We’ve got a lot to look forward to as far as income. We’ve got the money and the programs to grow,” Willey said. We’ve grown the way the town should. I’m going to get out on a high note.”

Most who have worked close with Willey, however, aren’t happy to see the long-time town head leave.

“He has taught me so much,” said Linda Collins, whom Willey and Council hired as town manager last year. “He’s been a godsend to me. I felt like he gave me my chance. I really do appreciate that,” Collins added. “It’s going to be a little bit difficult. He’s got a lot of history here. Everything we want to know, we ask him.”

Sue Knox, a longtime town worker and friend of Willey’s, agreed that the transition is going to be tough.

“Mayor Gary Willey has been a close friend of mine for at least 25 years,” Knox wrote in a prepared statement. “I have never known an individual to have so much love and devotion for a town and its residents. I respect his decision to resign as Mayor and can only hope that his replacement will have as much aspiration and is as goal oriented for this town as Gary has been for the past 24 years. His [presence in] this town will be truly missed.”