Aside from approving up to $30,000 for new Christmas decorations for the Fayetteville square and $20,500 as half of a local match for an anticipated grant, funding new taxiway lights and paving at the airport, Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting was more about parting words as outgoing officials near the end of their terms.
Consistent across the board were words of praise for Carol Foster, retiring executive director of Fayetteville Main Street, as well as kudos for her and Carolyn Denton, executive director of the Fayetteville-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, and their supporting cast, for work on the Host of Christmas Past Festival earlier this month.
For outgoing officials, Mayor Jon Law and aldermen Violet Harry, Anna Catherine Osteen, and Gwen Shelton, it was also a time of reflection as they expressed their appreciation for the chance to serve their city over the past four years. The current board is expected to be present next week for the start of a called session, which will see new board members seated for the start of their terms in office.
“I want to say, please take your leaves out of the bags — I’ve been hearing that for four years,” said Harry as she referred in good humor to how leaves must be on the ground, not bagged, for pick-up by city public works’ crews.
“I’ve enjoyed my time as an alderman,” she continued. “You come in with all these big ideas, and it moves slower than you think ... I’m like the coach who can’t enjoy the win for thinking about what we need to do better and what we need to do next. I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the department heads. We have some wonderful employees, and I look forward to where our city is headed.
“I think we’ve got a lot of really great things going,” she said, adding that she also looks forward to continuing to be involved.
Vice Mayor Shelton
“It’s kind of bittersweet for me, leaving after 18 years,” said Vice Mayor Gwen Shelton. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve worked with many of the department heads and watched some of them rise from entry level up to the top, and I’m always glad to see how we’ve been able to grow internally with our employees.
“I’ve learned a lot from what can be done when you’re willing to work with people who sometimes you don’t always agree with,” she said. “I will miss my community, and I will miss working here with this group.
“For the new ones coming in, the hardest job was told to me by Bill Askew and Jimmy Bills back 18 years ago when I went on the school board,” Shelton added, noting that she learned from those two men the importance of making policy and that the decisions you make won’t always please everyone. “I was lucky to have both those men mentor me – they were good men and good to this community.”
“Four years have gone by quickly,” said Alderman Anna Catherine Osteen, “and I’ve learned so much about what it takes to make a city run, how much our departments and department heads do ... to make Fayetteville a great place to live.
“I’ve learned so much from everyone up here,” she continued. “I appreciate what they’ve taught me and looking at things in different ways and being patient as we learn the process and how things work. I look forward to the future and serving the city and the county in other capacities, and I appreciate the opportunity to have done this.”
Referring to the old adage about a mayor’s job, signing checks, presiding over meetings, shaking hands and attending conferences, Law said he finally got to kiss a baby when a family visited City Hall earlier in the day.
“Aside from signing checks and doing all this other stuff, I think the thing I most enjoyed was the communication and one-on-one contact that I’ve had with, I wish I could count, how many people have come into my ... office and sat down,” he said. “They may have come in mad, maybe they came out mad or perhaps they understood why we did something.
“For some reason, the mayor is kind of like this figurehead, the CEO, and he has to have some kind of legacy,” he continued. “I think if I were to look at the legacy that I would have, it’s not my name on three buildings here in the city ... but it would be the town hall meetings.”
Saying he was discouraged early from holding town halls, Law said the opportunities they have provided in regard to business and community development have made for positive results – “It was city and county people who came with their ideas, with their opinions of what we are doing correctly and then the things we’re not doing quite as well as we should. If I have legacy, that would be it, and I hope that it will continue.”
And regardless of what some may think, city government is much like local businesses, he continued, saying that the city’s residents are, in essence, the city’s customers.
“... Those customers can quit us just like you quit a store for being treated poorly,” he said. “They can stop trading with us, they can stop buying from our merchants and leave town and take their business somewhere else, so we have to be accommodating, and we have to be friendly.”
To that end, he commended the new approach taken by the city planning and codes department, saying that’s where one of the greatest changes have occurred. “They’re there to serve the people, not to demand that people do things a certain way,” he said, adding that while codes and ordinances are the law, there’s a way to help people navigate them and find a way to make a project work, rather than a small detail bringing a project to an end.
“Progress starts one step at a time,” he said, citing the efforts of the vision teams which grew out of the town hall meetings and such charitable efforts as the community garden being developed behind the First Presbyterian Church or a new business such as Floyd’s Food Truck. The Young Professionals’ organization is another positive outcome of the town halls as well as the Chamber’s work. “Listening is the most important thing you can do.”
Another positive impact of his administration, he said, was the design of the police department’s new building, noting that while the building’s plans were begun by the previous administration, it was continued on his watch. He went on to stress the importance of the image projected by the city.
Law went on to say he was pleased with the strides forward made in regard to Camp Blount and the grants secured by the city on the site’s behalf as well as the city’s Greenway Project. The donation of 15 acres to the city by Daikin for new soccer fields and the anticipated grant associated with that, the addition of new industries to the city, facade grants enhancing the beauty of the downtown, and three new events were also among accomplishments he praised.
“I can’t compliment the department heads and the work they’re doing enough,” he said. “They take a lot of flak from us, because we’re always trying to find out what they’re doing wrong, but we never compliment them enough, and I’m as guilty as anybody on it. Especially this last year, they’ve really stepped up.”
Referring to successes as well as failures, the mayor also talked about his efforts to appoint people to various committees and boards who each would bring something to the table – special skills and/or education – that would prove beneficial.
“I appreciate your support,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m not by any means going away ... I’ve grown into the passion for the City of Fayetteville. I had a passion, but it wasn’t quite a strong as it is today, and there are things I would like to do that don’t require this board.”
“I thank everybody for their support, and I thank everybody up here,” he added. “I just wish Mayor-Elect Whisenant luck and the rest of the board, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you all are going to do.”