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As the Major League Baseball season is in full swing, five local residents vying for a vacant position on the Mount Airy Council of Commissioners made their points appropriately in a meeting Thursday afternoon.
These candidates had applied before a deadline last month to take the seat of the city’s commissioner general, formerly held by Mayor Ron Niland.
This opening was created by a sequence of events starting with the resignation of former mayor David Rowe last October and the eventual appointment of Niland – who had also served as deputy mayor under Rowe – as chief executive.
Citizens were invited to apply for the vacant position, which was open to residents of all sectors of the municipality and not limited to neighborhoods like the other four commissioner seats.
The list includes Mark Brown, Len Fawcett, Teresa Lewis, John Pritchard and Joe Zalescik.
Thursday afternoon has been set aside for each of the five to talk about their qualifications to the Commissioners, who will decide who becomes the new board member at their next meeting on September 16.
They had 10 minutes to plead their case and state their goals for the city. These ranged from trying to attract new industries, improving the city’s trade corridors, transparency of local government, working to maintain the quality of life of Mount Airy and others in between.
The candidates spoke in alphabetical order:
Brown said in his presentation that he was addressing the possible role of city commissioner without a “political agenda” in mind, but that he wanted to help Mount Airy in any way it needed.
He is the news director and sports director of local radio stations WPAQ / WSYD, works for Mayberry Squad Car Tours and owns Brown Communications, which provides sound services for various events. Brown is also the writer and producer of Historic Mount Airy Ghost Tours.
“I am selling Mount Airy as hard as I can get,” he said of his work in the various roles.
Brown also touched on the fact that these are artistic in nature.
“I think my background in the arts shouldn’t stop you from seriously considering me for this job,” he told commissioners, saying city council needed representatives with diverse interests.
Brown supports major projects being considered by the city government, such as the recent recommendations of the Vision committees, including the development of an event center with a permanent structure for the local farmers market.
But Brown said he would also tackle relatively minor issues such as the ongoing paving issues on Willow Street, flooding on South Street and the need for sidewalks along US Trade Corridor 601.
“I am ready to help, even if people hate the decisions I make. “
Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with Mount Airy, Fawcett spent much of his time on the podium Thursday afternoon praising the positives in the city.
The Mount Airy Regional History Museum, relatively recent downtown additions such as the Whittling Wall and Melva Alley, art installations and the Mount Airy War Memorial were among those he has mentioned.
Fawcett, who has held senior positions at area golf courses for a total of 35 years – including as Course Superintendent at Roaring Gap Golf Club – is now semi-retired.
He mentioned the various changes that Mount Airy’s economy has undergone over the years, especially the decline of the local textile industry. And Fawcett sees the ongoing redevelopment of one of those old manufacturing sites, Spencer’s one, as the most significant economic development project in the city’s history.
The Commissioner General’s Hope said one segment he wanted to improve involved various commercial sites in the city to promote growth, including along South Pine and West Pine Streets, the Franklin Street neighborhood, West Lebanon Street and along the US 52.
Fawcett said if he was chosen as commissioner he would listen to the concerns of all residents of the city, regardless of their socio-economic class.
“It’s a special place,” he said of Mount Airy, “and I want to make it even better.”
Lewis is unique among the five candidates, as she is the only one to have served as Commissioner, from 2009 to 2011, in the headquarters she is seeking to fill again.
“I feel extremely qualified,” said Lewis, who, in addition to his tenure in municipal government, has served on the boards of various community organizations over the years.
Lewis is a retired businesswoman long associated with WorkForce Unlimited, of which she still serves as chairman of the board, according to Thursday’s presentation.
Although she only served on city council for a short time, deciding not to run in the 2011 municipal election, Lewis takes pride in her service on the board.
“I was the decisive vote for recycling,” she said of a 2011 decision by commissioners to start a curbside recycling program in town.
Lewis also said on Thursday that she had overcome several health issues, including stage 1 breast cancer, and was physically fit to serve on the board again.
When she announced her resignation in 2011, Lewis spoke of the growing demands on her business and her desire to spend more time with her grandchildren.
While praising Mount Airy’s tourism industry and quality of life, Pritchard said Thursday that more substantial economic foundations are needed.
“Even with these things, we sink,” said Pritchard, who has spent many years in banking. “We need something else.”
He calls for more effort to recruit new industries to the city, saying other cities the size of Mount Airy in North Carolina have been successful in doing so.
“We need full-time jobs,” said Pritchard, noting that tourism and other activities are “the dessert” locally.
“We need the main entrance,” he explained. “We need more jobs if we are to grow.
Pritchard also pointed out that he is a loyal monitor of local government affairs. “I follow politics like the others follow sport. “
In that sense, Pritchard said he was well informed and up to date with past and present municipal government activities, noting that it would not require any transition or learning curve on his part if selected.
“I have attended 95% of all (board) meetings in the past 10 or 12 years.
Pritchard pledged transparency in local government and said he would represent all citizens.
Zalescik grew up in Hamilton, New Jersey, but said Thursday he had moved to Mount Airy in recent years in hopes of staying here for the rest of his life.
He cited previous experience in New Jersey, including serving in his community’s fire department and spending six years on an environmental advisory board.
Zalescik is retired after a long career in health media relations, around 40 years in the hospital field, and now owns a small business here called Station 1978 Firehouse Peanuts, the year he joined the fire department. He also coordinates the Mount Airy Farmers Market.
The former New Jersey resident also got a taste of city government, due to his tenure on the Mount Airy Planning Board. “We updated the codes and I worked really hard on the planning board,” he said.
“Ethics is number one in my book,” Zalescik added of the qualities he would bring to the board if he were appointed commissioner general. “And I want to be as transparent as possible.”
The candidate also gave an overview of how he would approach legislative affairs: “I look at the details, then I make a decision. “
Mount Airy already has a lot to offer, Zalescik said, including good public works operations such as water and sewer services and reasonable taxes.
In addition to other qualities, he concluded, it is “my enthusiasm for Mount Airy”.
The reaction of officials
“It will be a very difficult decision for our board of directors,” Mayor Niland said of the appointment after listening to the presentations, noting that he looked forward to the appointment of a new person soon.
“We have a big job to do in choosing from among very qualified candidates,” admitted Commissioner Marie Wood.
The two-week period before the next meeting will allow the board to deliberate on who is best suited for the position as well as the contribution of citizens, Wood said.
Commissioners Jon Cawley, Tom Koch and Steve Yokeley also thanked the five for agreeing to serve.
“I know it takes a lot of gut guts just to put your name out there,” Yokeley said.