Woodson takes gavel as new Salisbury mayor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Following in his grandfather’s footsteps nearly a century later, Paul Woodson became the first new mayor of Salisbury in 14 years.
Woodson’s grandfather, attorney Walter H. Woodson, served as mayor from 1913 to 1919.
“I guess it’s a little bit in the blood,” Woodson said.
Woodson was elected mayor Tuesday by Salisbury City Council after earning the most votes in the November election. He beat previous mayor Susan Kluttz by 35 ballots.
The city’s longest-serving mayor with seven terms, Kluttz was elected mayor pro tem by the council and honored with a resolution calling her contributions to the city “indelible” and “unparalleled.”
All five council members were re-elected in November and took the oath of office Tuesday. Woodson was accompanied by wife Beth, daughter Kristy Harvey and baby grandson Will Harvey IV.
“I’m excited about being mayor,” Woodson said later. “I started my own business at 16 and was running a textile mill at 26 years old. I like the challenge, love the challenge.”
Woodson, who owns Vogue Cleaners, said his priorities as mayor will be to ensure the success of Fibrant, the city’s new broadband utility, and to make it easier for businesses to open and expand in Salisbury.
“We need to be able to get somebody permitted in a couple weeks,” he said.
Woodson praised Kluttz as a gracious person and outstanding leader.
“See what I have to follow,” he said after reading the lengthy resolution detailing her many contributions, from improving race relations to stemming gun violence to instituting diversity training for city employees.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge to follow Mayor Susan Kluttz,” Woodson said. “She has done an unbelievable job for the last 14 years. It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve with her.”
Kluttz and city staffers have been extremely helpful during the transition, said Woodson, who acknowledged he has much to learn.
“I’m very thrilled about you, Paul,” Kluttz said. “… I know how much you care about the city and how much you care about doing things right.”
Kluttz, who nominated Woodson as mayor, pledged to support him. She called her time as mayor “an honor and joy” and said she “loved every minute of it.”
Woodson broadly outlined his agenda for the next two years. He asked every department head and city employee to think of ways to “make it effortless” for businesses to locate or expand in Salisbury.
“We need jobs desperately,” Woodson said. “I want to make sure that everyone understands that this council and this mayor want jobs and we will do everything possible to bring jobs to this city.”
Woodson said he will rely on city employees to come up with ways to make city government more efficient, because they understand the workings of the city better than anyone else.
Woodson pledged to be more open with residents about Fibrant so people better understand what’s going on with the utility. The city borrowed $33 million in 2008 to launch the fiber optic network and will borrow more than $7 million from other city funds to run the broadband service until it starts paying for itself.
A search is under way for a new broadband director after the previous leader retired.
“We know we have some technical things, and we plan to go after the top person in this country” to direct Fibrant, Woodson said.
“I sincerely believe in four or five years this is going to make our city boom,” he said.
All council members thanked their families and campaign volunteers for helping them win re-election. In a time of cynicism about politicians, Maggie Blackwell started her second term by saying she knows the council members have the city’s best interest at heart.
“I know that the members of this august board serve because we want to serve, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve with them,” Blackwell said.
Elected to an historic 10th term, William “Pete” Kennedy once again drew the largest group of supporters to watch him take the oath of office. Kennedy is beginning his 19th year on the council, longer than anyone has ever served.
“But it’s not about history, it’s about servant leadership,” he said.
Brian Miller said he was humbled to begin his second term and said the job is a high calling.
“There are some bright days ahead for this community and I could not be more pleased with the team that I’ve got with me,” Miller said.
Woodson, who has served in the No. 2 spot as mayor pro tem for six of his last seven terms, said he was shocked to land the top spot.
Politics runs in his family. His grandfather was not only mayor but a state senator, and his uncle Nelson Woodson was also a state senator and prepared a run for governor before illness stopped him.
Woodson said he’s honored to carry on the family tradition.
“I will do the best possible job I can for this city,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.