By Peggy Mackenzie
The June 18, 2019 Lewisburg City Council meeting marked the final public meeting for John Manchester as Mayor of the City. It turned out to be a meeting like no other as many assertions of appreciation were heard heralding the quality of local government leadership.
In reflecting on the state of the city, Mayor John Manchester expressed gratitude for the opportunity he’s had to serve as mayor for 16 years.”It’s been an honor,” he said. “It’s not for everyone, but for those who take it on, it’s gratifying when one’s skill sets and interests coincide with what they enjoy doing. For me, it’s been wonderful.” To the members of the council, Manchester said he was “justifiably proud” to leave with a strong, cohesive decision-making group in place.
“To run for office,” the mayor said, “you get to know the people in your town, the people you might never have met. From my heart, it’s been my pleasure to serve.” He said, as mayor, he’s been privileged to visit elevated places of government, including the White House. “It’s a humbling experience to see how government works at all levels, but especially at the lower levels. You really do get to see how it works.”
Mayor-elect Beverly White read two personalized poems she wrote for Manchester and council member Joseph Lutz, who, as an eight-year member of the council was also departing service. Her poems were followed by a standing ovation from the audience. There were several more standing ovations that evening.
Lutz said, “As one part of the people you picked to work together as a group, none of us had really met before,” but, crediting the mayor for his leadership and example, “we found we worked very well together.” Lutz also expressed admiration for the directors of the city’s planning, works, fire and police departments’ selfless service to Lewisburg. He termed his stint as chair of the Public Safety Committee “an awesome experience.”
“The City,” he said, “is in incredibly good hands.”
Lutz’s remarks were echoed by Zoning Officer Gary Ford and Public Works Director Roger Pence, Fire Chief Joey Thomas and Police Chief Chris Teubert. As the evening progressed and each department head gave his report, they added their own reflections and praise for both the mayor and council member Joseph Lutz, as Pence’s remarks made clear, “The City has a lot going on – to your credit, Mr Mayor.” And to Lutz, he said, “It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to serve with you. You are a most compassionate, caring person.”
Again, it was a meeting like no other.
In other business:
- Scott McClellan gave a comprehensive visitor report requesting the city consider installing speed humps on Echols Lane and Foster Street near the four-way stop intersection. The area has no sidewalks and so the streets are where walkers, kids on bikes and strollers are exposed to speeding vehicles. “The simple solution is to install speed humps to address this safety issue,” McClellan said.
The mayor thanked him for the preliminary legwork, amassing 50 signatures from residents to a petition, and taking time to come to the council meeting. Manchester promised to gather reports from the police department and city engineers, as well as to bring the topic up at the next Public Safety and Public Works committee meetings for consideration.
- It is once again that time of year when the residents of Lewisburg are asked to freshen their garden blooms and sweep their porches in time for the arrival of Lewisburg in Bloom judges, whose visit will be on July 18-19. City Clerk Shannon Beatty, whose oversight of the annual event was touted by the mayor, said the colors this year are purple, orange and lime green. Fund raising for the event began with the sale of 287 Begonia plants at City Hall. “We want the town to look good for the judges, but we also want it to look good for ourselves, the people of Lewisburg,” Beatty said.
- Council approved the names Mayor Manchester proposed for appointments and reappointments of three-year stints to the Planning Commission, which included Roger Vannoy and Tia Bouman as re appointees and Helen Harliss and Margaret Gossard as new appointees to the same commission. Danny Boone was reappointed for another 5-year stint on the Library Board.
- Police Chief Chris Teubert presented the details of a mutual aid agreement between all law enforcement departments and county and municipal officials in a collaborative effort to combat drug trafficking throughout the county. The agreement is a 12-month contract, he said, to provide manpower in thwarting and uncovering drug-related activities.
- With fireworks season upon us, Teubert said, “All fireworks that are propelled into the air or explode are forbidden within city limits even though they are sold locally.” The department will be out to enforce the ordinance.
- Teubert also reported on two incidents in which the city experienced gunshots fired. The first concluded in an arrest for five counts of shots fired on Washington Street, causing damages to structures. The second incident at Dorie Miller Park resulted in the tragic death of a young victim and an upgraded arrest from unintentional manslaughter to first degree murder. Teubert said the incident required 281 man hours on that case alone with city police working tirelessly to bring it to a quick resolution.
- A rezoning ordinance was passed on second reading to rezone a property on 219 North from R-1 (town residential) to O-R (office residential). Council member Mark Etten confirmed that the change is in compliance with Lewisburg’s long term plan for the area.
- Etten had a long list to report from the Finance Committee minutes beginning with a recommendation to approve a funding request for the Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center for $14,700. The mayor commented that the aquatic center is going to become “a major changer for the community.”
- Four Chapman Technical Group task orders followed with an environmental studies and right-of-way acquisition service upgrades to the water plant amounting to $41,000 and another for $30,000 for a Fairlea water main replacement. Another $20,000 for improvements design work to sidewalk, storm water and road work at Lee Street and GMS Drive and lastly, $19,000 for design improvements at Chestnut Street.
- Etten went on to cite the Civil War Trail is completed with a final pay request for $15,193; a contract renewal with the Mills group for $8,000; skunk and deer control services contract renewals; a Home Rule participation fee renewal for $2,000; and finally, the approval of the water fund budget fiscal year 2020, which will include the water rate increase in effect on 1-20-20.
- The Public Works report included a 39 percent water loss in May, which, while currently maintaining some consistency, is still a stubborn problem. The budget includes funding for leak detection equipment, and with water rate increases to begin in the new year, the city has an obligation to make a greater effort to try to reduce those water losses, Director Pence said.
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The mayor’s concluding remarks were to praise the department heads (“Their detailed, focused attention should make you feel in very good hands.”), the new mayor Beverly White (“She is the right person for Lewisburg at this time.”) and city manager Jacy Faulkner (“…who recently came aboard, making the city feel confident and comforted.”) and to the other council members, he spoke with warmth and affection. The various turn-overs through the years, he said, were seamless – the change over from Fire Chief Wayne Pennington to Chief Thomas, the passing of the wand from Police Chief Tim Stover to Chief Teubert, and a few years earlier when Public Works Director Pence took on the department. “It was all seamless.”
“A hallmark of good leadership is planning for succession,” Manchester said. “I was able to see something that would bode well. The City has a council that reflects the face of the people.”
The meeting closed with council member Lutz’s prayer of thanks, which concluded, “…Our community life depends upon others’ toil.”