Burgin, Lewis leave big shoes to fill
By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
With two Salisbury City Council members leaving, nearly a quarter of a century worth of experience is going with them.
“The end of an era,” as Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz described it.
Bill Burgin served as a Salisbury City Council member for 12 years, and Mark Lewis served for six, with an additional six years of experience working with the council on various boards.
“The beauty of being on the council and being part of a group is working together,” Burgin said.
“We’re just people willing to do the extra work so that we move forward,” Lewis said. “It’s always important to work together for all the people of the city.”
Burgin ran for the first time in 1997.
“I remember talking to someone about what they thought Salisbury needed,” he said, explaining that someone suggested tearing down a historic structure and putting in a fast food restaurant.
“I thought, ‘Surely not. There’s no way people can tear down historic structures.’ But it was true,” he said.
Burgin helped create a local historic district for downtown Salisbury.
That was done “to help preserve our history and beautiful downtown,” he said. “We are a genuine town, and people want genuine. We are preserving our history and creating a future,” he said.
Lewis, who was chairman of the planning board, said serving on the planning board with Burgin was valuable help when he became a council member.
“There’s no better training for the council than the planning board,” he said.
Burgin and Lewis worked together on the first complete rewrite of the Land Development Ordinance.
“Most people don’t know how ordinances work,” Burgin said. “And we had one that prevented our community from growing the way it needed to grow.”
“The 2020 plan has sidewalks, greenways, diversity in neighborhoods,” Lewis said. “The city infrastructure belongs to everybody.”
“The new ordinance allows for some neighborhood mixed use,” said Burgin, who noted that neighborhoods can now have a corner store to pick up a gallon of milk instead of driving to the nearest grocery store.
“The ordinance defines how you can grow a city, which is why we felt it important to change it in order to change Salisbury,” Burgin said. “The new ordinance is the vision of the community. We spent every Monday for three years working with developers, planners.”
“We brought all voices to the table and heard them out,” Lewis said. “(The new ordinance) is probably one of the things I’m most proud of and will probably be our legacy.
“But we won’t know for 10-15 years because this ordinance will be our road map.”
Burgin and Lewis also helped develop the 2020 plan.
“It took several years, and to implement it took another four years,” Burgin said. “It took eight years and two months to get through. I stayed another two terms because of what we were working on in the plan.”
In the past 12 years, Burgin and Lewis have been challenged from every angle.
“We had to deal with the death of the firemen,” Burgin said. “Then we lost a girl to a gang shooting. Then we lost the Catawba students.
“The community hurts over those kinds of events, and they look to leadership to help them get through it. It’s just a part of what it takes to be a councilman.”
Looking toward the future of Salisbury, Burgin and Lewis plan to be involved, and see great things happening.
“What I campaigned for in 1997 was to help generate the next plan for the city,” Burgin said. “That was my main goal, and why I got on the 2020 committee.”
Burgin spoke of Rowan-Salisbury Utilities, and how it alone will make Salisbury rise above the rest.
“We’ve positioned ourselves with a large supply of water,” he said. “We can have job growth in industry where others can’t because we have water resources.”
“For the future, we need to figure out how to create jobs for the community, and make our community more attractive for jobs and companies,” Burgin said. “We did the best we could with water and sewer resources. We need to focus on where the strength is in making this happen.”
Lewis said the development of a Salisbury Tourism Development Authority is “seriously important to the city and county.”
“We need to make them work seamlessly,” Lewis said. “That’s economic development, which means jobs.
“And there’s no question that in the next 12-18 months the fiber to the home utility needs to succeed. That has so much long-term potential, and should open up all kinds of doors and opportunities.
“We know that this is the technology of the future. It’s serious infrastructure. It’s providing a platform for commerce, and is going to put us (Salisbury) a leg above everyone who doesn’t have it.”
Lewis and Burgin also hope to see the poverty level lowered in Salisbury.
“We have an unacceptable poverty level in this city, and the improvements center around children, and their basic functioning in reading,” Lewis said. “We’ve recognized that if a child wasn’t reading on grade level by the third grade, their odds of succeeding were minimal.”
“If we can get our children reading on grade level by the third grade, they’ll be OK,” said Burgin, who noted the city, county and school system is working jointly to attack the reading problem.
Burgin and Lewis plan to stay engaged with different groups and leadership positions in the community.
“Even though you’re not a councilman, you can still make a difference,” Burgin said.
“One of my regrets over the last six years is not being engaged with the Human Relations Council more,” Lewis said. “Diversity is a real issue for me.”
Lewis said he also hopes to become involved more with the Historic Preservation Committee.
“We’ve lost some structures we shouldn’t have lost,” Lewis said. When Lewis visited London and Salisbury, England, he said the property rights and human rights balance “really hit home.”
“When you look around, you get it,” Lewis said of the towns in England.
Both Burgin and Lewis are going to miss the camaraderie among the council and city staff.
“All councilmen are special people, and are each motivated by how they can make Salisbury better,” Burgin said.
“The staff level folks we worked with are what I’m going to miss the most,” Lewis said. “If we didn’t talk to them three to four times a week, something was going on. They were a wonderful group to work for.”
“The beauty of being on a council and being part of a group is working together, hearing passions other members argue through,” Burgin said. “When you’re part of a council of five, you’re a portion of the successes and failures.”
“What makes good government is when you vote for something and it fails,” Lewis said. “But then you put your passion into it and give it your best shot. There’s a wisdom in the multitudes.”