Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 24, 2007
By Maggie Blackwell
For The Salisbury PostSalisbury Mayor Susan Wear Kluttz distinctly remembers two sleepless election nights: the night her father was first elected as mayor of Salisbury, and the night when she was elected to the same position.
“When my father was elected, I was up all night. I was just so excited and happy and proud,” she says, beaming.
Twelve years later, she had another restless night. “I just kept thinking, ‘What on earth have I done?’ I was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility.”
This characteristic humility and eagerness to celebrate the successes of others are two of her strongest traits, says longtime City Manager David Treme. Treme, hired in 1986 by Mayor John Wear, is proud to have served both father and daughter.
The two mayors may be marked more by their contrast than their similarity, Treme notes. Dr. John Wear came to serve as mayor after having many other positions of leadership in Salisbury and Rowan County, including chief of staff at Rowan Memorial Hospital, chairman of the Rowan County Commissioners, and chairman of Rowan County Parks and Recreation Department.
Kluttz’s first race for City Council was prompted by her experience handling complaints for the superintendent of schools. Before that, she says, ” I didn’t even realize people complained to the Board of Education. I became very sensitive to the needs of people and how they were handled.”
Although Kluttz says she enjoyed her progressive positions within the administrative office, she decided to take a break.
“I promised my husband I was going to be home. I really thought I’d be a housewife for a while. The next day, though, there was an editorial in the paper observing that all the candidates for the upcoming council election were men. All the county commissioners were men, too. The editorial asked if there weren’t any women who might serve.
Considering her upbringing, her desire to serve the city seems a natural progression.
Her brother, Dr. John Wear Jr., points out that he and his sister grew up in a home where civic involvement was a priority.
“Being the child of someone who would be mayor, you are more attuned to issues,” he says.
After discussions with her husband, her father and closest friends, she decided to run for City Council. One of those confidantes was the mayor at the time, Margaret Kluttz.
“Margaret had done such an outstanding job in the mayor’s office, following my father’s terms, among many other things, using her historic preservation knowledge and expertise to lead the revitalization of our downtown and other areas,” Kluttz says.
“Bill, my father, and Margaret all seemed to understand what I wanted to do and were very supportive. Having their support gave me more confidence. I’m not sure I would have continued without it.
“No one was more surprised than I when I was the top vote-getter. I had never held public office before and was suddenly mayor.”
Hence the sleepless night.
No need, Treme says.
“She handles everything with grace and diligence. She is so ultimately effective.”
Kluttz’s brother believes that his father and sister were both attracted to city government because it’s non-partisan.
“Both tried to bring different viewpoints together,” he says.
Treme remembers “Big John,” and his pursuit of excellence.
Wear died Oct. 29, 2000.
“He had high expectations of himself and of those around him. He was powerful and was not afraid to use his power.
Kluttz, by contrast, “has tensile strength,” he says, and is more inclined to work by consensus.
“She has high expectations of herself and brings out the best in others. Her power comes from a thousand threads woven tightly together.”
John Wear Jr. puts it this way: “Dad was a ‘tell it like it is’ person. He was pretty blunt! Susan, by contrast, is a little more tactful.”
His father was “good at getting to the bottom line,” he says.
“Susan shoots straight was well, and of course she’s highly principled, as he was.”
“She networks and gains the respect of, and cooperation of, all who work with her,” Treme says. “Many in town may not realize that her peer mayors turn to her for opinions, that she is selected to speak at the state level, or that she serves on boards and commissions far beyond the city of Salisbury.
Her caring for the citizens of Salisbury has become her trademark.
“I believe that any person who comes to a City Council meeting should be comfortable ó after all, it is their government,” Kluttz says. “Each should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of who they are, what their issue might be, or what they have to say. I do think that meetings should be dignified and its leaders should set an example for the community. I have been very fortunate to serve with outstanding people, both on the council and staff, who conduct the meetings in a professional manner.”
Her father’s biggest challenge, Kluttz says, was dealing with the downtown crisis in the ’70s and ’80s, when businesses closed and buildings sat empty, which led to increased crime.
Her father’s efforts, she says, paved the way for downtown revitalization.
Her own biggest challenge has been preparing for growth and change, both in land development and population. Another focus has been encouraging better racial harmony as the city becomes more multicultural.
The local economy ó strong when she took office but weakened in the past decade by plant closings ó has also been a challenge, she says.
“Remaining positive through it all has been a challenge,” she says.
Yet she remains positive.
“She takes joy in every day of service,” Treme says. “She celebrates talking with a group ofthird-graders just as much as working with other elected officials.”
Kluttz recalls how much joy her father took in learning about the inner workings of the city as he served. She takes similar joy.
“I’ve learned so, so much. Whether it’s street maintenance, or budgeting, it’s all been such an education. Besides, how many women my age have a book on their coffee table titled, ‘Flush: the Story of Waste Water?’ ”
Kluttz says that she never dreamed she’d serve as mayor one day.
“I was the only girl. My brothers were out fishing and doing boy things. I stayed home, but I was Daddy’s girl.”
Kluttz doesn’t discount the possibility that one of her two adult children will keep the family tradition alive.
“Both love Salisbury and appreciate the opportunity they had to grow up here. Who knows ? Maybe some day one or both of them might return. And, after all, no one in a million years, including me, ever thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and run for office.”