The race for the Ward 2 council seat is all about the last 12 months, at least that’s the opinion of the two candidates running for the position.
Incumbent Vernon Woods said his first two years in office saw the city move forward, only to take some major steps back in the past year following the last elections and subsequent changes in city leadership.
“We were getting things done, we were progressing,” Woods said about the time before the 2011 elections. “It’s different now and I want to see Piedmont get back on track.”
Leon Meyer, who is Woods’ only challenger, sees things a bit differently.
“I think we have made some great strides this past year,” Meyer said referring to the hiring of a new city manager, city attorney and engineering firm. “Now we need to get a group of council persons that will and can work together to see us continue to move forward.”
The two Ward 2 candidates have different opinions on how the past several months have gone for the city, and Woods believes the race is also about two candidates who represent two different sides of the political landscape.
“I think that the realtors and the developers all stick together…if one of them wins they all seem to get a piece of the action,” Woods said. Meyer, who is a realtor and owner of Overland Express Realty, was not mentioned by name by Woods, but the implication was made by the councilman that certain developers have caused problems for Piedmont and have attempted to control the political climate. “We’ve got some developers here that are top notch…but there is an agenda being pushed by others.”
Meyer admits some might see him as “guilty by association” with certain politically charged individuals, but he objects to any accusation that he represents a specific agenda.
“I don’t think I’m on either side,” Meyer said. “I really don’t want to be put on either side. I want to look at everything as what does it do for the city of Piedmont. I’m not going to rubber stamp anybody or anything. If it’s not good for Piedmont, I’m not going to approve it.”
From the crowd to the council
Woods, who moved to Piedmont in 1987, said he was a regular attendee of city council meetings well before he was elected in 2009.
“I was a pain in the butt for the council then,” Woods says with a laugh. “I always wanted to make sure I understood what was going on.”
Woods is a former information technology specialist and was one of the first nationally registered EMT’s with the Piedmont volunteer fire department. A busy schedule kept him from running for office but after retirement he decided to run.
“I wanted to make sure I had the time to devote to it,” Woods said. “If I was going to do it I was going to do it right.”
For the first two years on the council Woods said he felt like the city was making great progress. However, voters disagreed and two new councilman and a new mayor last year resulted in several changes in city administration and a 3-to-2 political divide that Woods has often found himself in the minority on when it came to several council votes, including those dealing with the firing of City Manager Clark Williams and the decision to delay payment to Williams Foods grocery store.
“We have to repair our reputation,” Woods said.
Woods believes he isn’t the only person in town that has become frustrated with the direction of local politics. He said a “nasty campaign” last year caught the attention of a lot of residents, and while he isn’t predicting an easy race, he does believe many in town have grown as frustrated as him.
“As Japan found out after they bombed Pearl Harbor, they awoke a sleeping giant,” Woods said. “Piedmont was (politically) dead before last year. But, good or bad…the town has woke up.”
Woods has often been one of the more vocal members of the council, a distinction he isn’t embarrassed to own, and he also scoffs at the idea that the council always has to agree and get along. Over his three years in office he says he has a better understanding of how city finances work and that is why when it comes to the number one complaint of most residents – roads and streets – he believes the only way to make any real progress is through passage of a bond issue.
“I don’t necessarily like saying that and I know not everyone likes hearing that but we can’t make the kinds of repairs we need to make with just sales tax revenue,” Woods said. “If you want a good road you are going to have to pay for it. I think most people understand that but we have to be careful about how we do that.”
Woods might be frustrated with the state of politics in Piedmont but he hasn’t lost pride for his hometown.
“I am very proud of Piedmont,” Woods said. “We can do better and I believe we will do better.”
Meyer sells Piedmont for a living. He opened his realty business in 1997 and has been located in the same Piedmont Road office ever since.
“Both of my girls graduated from high school here,” Meyer said. “I love Piedmont and I just saw an opportunity to get involved and do some good in the city of Piedmont.”
That’s not to say Meyer hasn’t already been involved. After retiring from 23 years of service in the Air Force, Meyer has served on the Piedmont Economic Authority, the Chamber board of directors and was involved in bringing the Vietnam memorial to Piedmont. Meyer has also co-chaired the Fourth of July festival for the past few years.
When asked what the town needs most the first answer out of Meyer’s mouth is “positivity.”
“We need to get a positive group on (the council),” Meyer said. “I think we have made great strides this year but we need a group of people on the council who can work together and continue to move us forward.”
Meyer said he has concerns about the financial state of the city, specifically when it comes to the completion of the new Piedmont police station, making payments on a new sewer line and increasing the town’s revenue, which primarily comes from sales tax.
“I’m concerned that without new revenue the town will not survive,” Meyer said. “I think the grocery store deal needs to get done…it’s been way too long, but the grocery store and the few businesses that we have will not sustain our city government.”
Meyer also believes the city needs more diversity in housing options, which will help improve the town’s labor market for service industry businesses and will allow more families to call Piedmont home, he said.
“We have to welcome those developers and I know that’s a sticky issue for some people, but I don’t see where that revenue is going to come from without them,” Meyer said. “Our ordinances need work, our charter needs work. There is just a lot of things that require work but it can get done and we can move forward.”
Like Woods, Meyer agrees current sales tax revenues are not adequate in helping the city cover its expenses and making improvements to roads. It’s not a popular idea, but Meyer said he agrees with the new city manager that rates on sewer and water might need to be increased. He is also open to the proposed bond for street repairs but isn’t sure all of its features are necessary or worth the money.
Meyer also said he is looking forward to a clean campaign and wants to base his race on talking to potential voters and helping them better understand what his views are on how the city should operate.
“I don’t want mudslinging,” Meyer said. “I just want people that have a question to walk in the door or call me.”