I don’t profess to know what size shoes Teresa Lewis wears. And I learned long ago that venturing guesses as to a lady’s age, weight, etc., is not advisable.
One thing is certain, though. The shoes Teresa will be leaving behind in a figurative sense when she steps down from the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners later this year will be moccasins of Shaquille O’Neal-like proportions.
I regret Teresa is leaving the board, due to increased business and family demands, and must say that citizens will be lucky to get another commissioner possessing her qualifications and level of commitment.
Before Teresa ran for the city council in 2009, I’d had some dealings with her, and was aware of Teresa’s success in the business world as the owner of Workforce Carolina and of her extensive community involvements. She had served on the governing boards of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, Reeves Community Center, Surry County Economic Development Partnership and other organizations. Teresa also had led fund-raising campaigns for civic improvements, among other public-minded activities.
And judging by her work on the city council, another item can definitely be added to Teresa’s resumé: that of distinguished public official.
First it should be mentioned that I have high regard for our entire city council, including Mayor Deborah Cochran and all five city commissioners. I have covered local government for more than 30 years off and on, and in my opinion this group of officials is the best we’ve had in Mount Airy.
Of course, there have been many fine individual office-holders who have distinguished themselves by their service over that period. But collectively, the present council is arguably our finest group of city leaders in some time.
Along with Teresa and Deborah, commissioners Dean Brown, Jon Cawley, Todd Harris and Steve Yokeley each bring a different perspective and skill set to the table which adds up to a genuine concern for the people they serve.
They don’t always agree with each other. But that’s a healthy sign for democracy, in my view, because too many of our boards have made a habit a rubber-stamping everything and walking in lockstep with each other. On the other hand, I’ve noticed more than a few 3-2 and 4-1 votes in my coverage of city government in the past few years.
In Teresa Lewis’ case, there is no doubt she is a soft-spoken, genteel and elegant lady, but that doesn’t mean she won’t take a tough stand when she believes it’s warranted. Something Teresa has proved in her short time as an at-large commissioner is that she isn’t afraid to be the lone dissenter if she believes it represents the best move.
This willingness to go against the grain and exercise a degree of independent thinking is something I often find sorely lacking in Mount Airy, where people seem overly reluctant to challenge the status quo for various political and other reasons. Yet for Teresa, it hasn’t been a matter of just bucking the system for the sake of being a maverick, since she always seems to devote much research and deliberation to matters before taking a position.
Teresa illustrated her abilities in this regard last August when she was the only one of the five commissioners to vote against appointing Barbara Jones as city manager, something that appeared to be a slam-dunk among the other board members.
While Teresa was quick to say her position was no reflection on Jones personally, she explained that it was based on years of experience in the personnel field. Teresa simply thought the person picked should possess a master’s degree in public administration and a minimum of 10 years’ experience as a city manager, which did not fit Jones’ particular credentials.
“I think that today’s decision has been one of the hardest decisions I have had to make,” Lewis said after the August vote. “It has truly been a matter of my head versus my heart.”
But the point is, Teresa was willing to make such a hard decision. And she hasn’t shied away from others, including her stance in a controversial 3-2 move earlier this month to implement curbside recycling in Mount Airy. Sure, providing the key vote took courage on Teresa’s part, but it was clear she was following her convictions in doing so, whether one agreed with that position or not.
Another class move on Teresa’s part was announcing her decision not to seek re-election Thursday night, well ahead of the candidates’ filing period for the 2011 municipal races and the expiration of her present term in December. Again, Teresa seemed to be relying on her experience in the personnel field in an effort to ensure that the right person is there to take over when she vacates the office late this year.
“It is my hope that this early announcement will encourage qualified individuals to seek election to this very important office,” was Teresa’s statement regarding her desire for a seamless transition.
Spoken like a dedicated public servant, a true business professional and — perhaps most importantly — a good person.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.