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Cornelius News

Interview: What’s on the (next) mayor’s mind

By Dave Yochum. When he officially takes office in December, Mayor-elect Woody Washam will bring a sense of old and new as well as east and west to the center seat at the dais in Town Hall.

Washam was born and raised here and vividly remembers the way Cornelius was: From Mrs. Harrill’s five and dime to the fabled Tree of Knowledge near Catawba and Main. It was cut down long ago.

He says the heart of Cornelius will come back in a big way with the new multimillion-dollar arts center.
“I expect the downtown to be recreated and come back,” Washam said. “The impetus is the creation of the new arts district.”

In an exclusive interview, the next mayor said it is his “lifelong dream and commitment to serve my hometown.”

The quality of life that he experienced growing up and raising his family here is important to continue. “My parents and all the jobs I have worked at during my 45 years as a banker have instilled the element of service into my being,” he said.

Job One for him is creating and establishing a good rapport and relationship with board members, as well as town staff. He has a long-standing relationship with Town Manager Anthony Roberts as well as many members of the town staff. The two are meeting this morning to discuss committee assignments for commissioners. Washam has already communicated with the five winners in the Town Board race: Mike Miltich, Dave Gilroy, Thurman Ross, Kurt Naas and Denis Bilodeau.

Relationships are important when it comes to moving the town forward. The relationship between the current mayor, Chuck Travis, and the town board fractured along the I-77 fault line as well as leadership style.

“Consistent and frequent face-to-face communications with all board members is the key. The mayor needs to initiate this and be held accountable to make sure it happens. That has been missing during my term on the board to date. There will be times where compromise will be important. Respect and civility is always a requirement,” Washam said. Washam plans to continue coffee chats and “listening circles” with residents, sometimes telling people what they don’t want to hear.

A member of the Key Club in high school as well as Future Business Leaders, Washam attended Boys State at Wake Forest, played clarinet in the high school marching band and piano with the jazz band.

He’s been the organist at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church for more than 50 years, and he’s only 66. He was elected to the Town Board in 2013, and garnered the most votes. He was re-elected in 2015.

Cornelius Today pitched these questions at Washam:

You’ve been training to be mayor all your life.

Washam: I feel like I have. Being a banker prepares me well. A strong leader, manager and motivator is very necessary to lead our town into the future. My leadership in multiple service and civic organizations has prepared me well for running meetings, working with boards and building consensus for the overall good of the town.

It seems like we’re all fighting.

Washam: I think it is positive that more people are engaged and interest in issues that face our Town. However, concerns must be expressed in a constructive manner. I am fortunate to have kept lines of communications open and hope I can use that to our advantage to get good solutions and end results. Uniting our community behind a positive shared vision for Cornelius’ future will be a top priority.

What are your strengths in terms of this new role?

Washam: Communications and good relationships throughout town will be an asset. Citizens will not always agree but I hope we can always keep a respectful and open relationship.
My managerial and financial knowledge have contributed to many policy, procedural and planning solutions that are needed at the board and mayor level. My experience with music and the arts should continue to help me provide good direction to our Arts Board. But, most of all, the experience of growing up in the town I will now lead, will bring an element of our great and rich past to life as we pave the way to a promising future.

How about one weakness?

Washam: I am a perfectionist. I have very high expectations for our staff and all Town board members as I will expect them to take the future of our town as seriously as I do.

When some people talk about a strong commission, weak mayor form of government, how do you really lead?

Washam: I will lead both by example and setting high expectations. Consistent and frequent face-to-face communications with all board members is the key. The mayor needs to initiate this and be held accountable to make sure it happens. That has been missing during my term on the board to date. There will be times where compromise will be important. Respect and civility is always a requirement.

The mayor sets the Town Board agenda. What does that mean?

Washam: The agenda is the work and line up of business at any given meeting or pre-meeting for the board. It is based on needed priority and requirements of running a municipal organization such as the Town of Cornelius. The agenda is recommended by the Town Manager, approved and adjusted by the mayor but must be approved, changed or altered at the beginning of each board meeting by a motion, second and majority vote of the board.

The idea of one toll lane/one GP lane seems to be coming to the surface now. Is this a reasonable compromise?

Washam: Anything is better than what we currently have to live with for 50 years. However, I have not given up on a conversion to general purpose lanes at least in the North Mecklenburg/South Iredell stretch of the interstate. I was somewhat surprised to hear this suggestion come from one of the long time leaders in the anti-toll movement.

Is there a mayor in local history whom you might emulate?

Washam: Yes, that is an easy question. My hero is Joe V. Knox who was mayor of Mooresville for in excess of 30 years. He communicated with citizens in a unique and impressive way. People in Mooresville loved Joe Knox—he was an inspiration. I watched him operate and create success after success for that community for the many years I have been a banker in this region. I only wish he were still around. He would definitely be my go to person.

Similarly, who was your role model and why?

Washam: Another easy one: My dad, Woody Sr. or Big Woody, was truly bigger than life. He worked hard, was honest, direct and insisted on everyone doing the right thing at the end of the day. He made a positive difference with his church, community, employer and his family. And, 26 years after his death, people still comment about him and remember him fondly. He was a mover and shaker and didn’t even know it!

Will you retire from the bank?

Washam: No. I am fortunate to work for a great employer, Carolina Trust Bank, that encourages its employees to give back to our communities. I am more than grateful that they provide me the opportunity to be local and flexible. I continue to enjoy what I do.

You’re passionate about the arts center.

Washam: I’ve believed for a long time that the arts in Cornelius is a component that we’ve been missing for a long time. I was more than pleased when the voters approved the bonds in 2013 to fund a portion of the arts center. And I’m especially happy that it will be in Old Town Cornelius. As the process and development of the concept has moved forward, I continue to be excited and thrilled that this will become a reality. I’m committed to work hard in every way I can to assure this happens as soon as possible.