Valley Mills residents opted for a change in leadership by electing challenger Ray Bickerstaff as mayor with 71 percent of the vote Saturday.

Bickerstaff, who served on the Valley Mills City Council in the early 1990s, received 244 votes, while incumbent Jerry Pierce received 100 votes — 29 percent.

“Needless to say, there’s a whole bunch of folks celebrating tonight,” said Bickerstaff, a special education teacher at McLennan County Challenge Academy,

Bickerstaff, 63, said his city’s residents obviously had something to say and the results demonstrated that. He said he’d continue as mayor with a listening ear and reunite the community that has described itself as divided under Pierce’s leadership.

“Believe it or not there’s some things the mayor was doing I agree with,” he said. “We will improve upon the direction he was going.”

Pierce, 39, a real estate investor, faced a year of controversy after he placed the municipal judge and city secretary on paid administrative leave and contracted with an Austin law firm to evaluate the city’s procedures. Some community members felt he had a personal agenda while others threw their full support behind his actions. Pierce was elected in May 2013 as the mayor of the town of about 1,190 people.

Bickerstaff said he thinks he received so many votes because there were a lot of people who knew he also served as the Valley Mills ISD school board president and served for 20 years as an athletics volunteer in the city. He said a lot of people also knew his grandfather, Chester Paul Hardwick, who was the mayor of Valley Mills in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Pierce said the results were surprising. He said he had a lot of support over the last two years as mayor, and he appreciated that.

Pierce is openly gay and said he’s faced some prejudice for that. He said he witnessed hateful messages on social media after the election results came out.

“Unfortunately, from the things I’m seeing posted on Facebook it looks like bigotry won out,” Pierce said.

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