City Council appoints local architect to replace Kluttz

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2013

SALISBURY — City Council accepted Susan Kluttz’s resignation and appointed her replacement during the same meeting.
In a surprise development, council members on Tuesday chose local architect Karen Alexander to replace Kluttz, Salisbury’s longest-serving mayor and current mayor pro tem. Kluttz was tapped Dec. 20 by Gov.-elect Pat McCrory to serve as secretary of cultural resources.
Kluttz resigned her council seat Monday, effective immediately, and did not attend the meeting.
Council members revealed they have been discussing Kluttz’s presumed departure for weeks, as well as candidates for her possible replacement.
Council members said they did not meet as a group, which would have violated state law. Mayor Paul Woodson said he had been in contact with members individually to discuss the issue, and he personally interviewed three finalists — Alexander, former City Council member Mark Lewis and Rip Kersey, runner-up in the 2011 election.
Woodson said Alexander’s knowledge and experience as chairwoman of the Salisbury Planning Board and the way she handled a controversy over a new Waffle House restaurant gave her the edge.
Woodson also said he wanted to appoint another woman to the City Council. He said other council members also preferred appointing a woman.
Also Tuesday, City Council chose Maggie Blackwell, the third-highest vote-getter in the 2011 election, as the new mayor pro tem. Blackwell served as mayor pro tem during Kluttz’s final term as mayor from 2009 to 2011.
Blackwell nominated Alexander to replace Kluttz. Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy nominated Blackwell for mayor pro tem. All votes were unanimous.
Councilman Brian Miller said he had planned to nominate Kersey but agreed to support Alexander, saying “there is no question she is qualified.” Kennedy provided the second to Blackwell’s nomination of Alexander.
Kersey, who came in sixth in the 2011 election by a relatively close 119 votes, said Tuesday night he was disappointed with the decision.
“Citizens’ votes obviously should be the top priority in any decision regarding the election process,” he said. “Salisbury City Council has a long history of the council using votes of the citizens internally to determine the mayor and mayor pro tem decisions.”
Alexander’s gender should have not played a role, Kersey said.
“I feel that in elected positions, gender is not a criteria, plain and simple,” he said.
But Woodson said the council needed another female member to accurately reflect the voters’ wishes.
“A woman is leaving, and a woman is coming back on,” Woodson said after the meeting.
Woodson said he was looking for a “pro-business woman” to fill Kluttz’s vacancy, and Alexander fit all the criteria the council had set: experience in budgeting, knowledge of the city’s long-range comprehensive plan Vision 2020, advocacy for the proposed downtown school central office, experience in planning and zoning, advocacy for better housing, experience with tourism and an emphasis on jobs.
Alexander can hit the ground running, Woodson said. With the council’s annual strategic planning retreat in February and budget workshops in May, Woodson said he needed someone “who would come aboard much faster.”
Woodson said Alexander proved she was pro-business during the Waffle House controversy, when opponents tried to block the chain from building a 24-hour restaurant in an at-risk neighborhood.
Alexander and a committee she served on rejected the neighborhood’s rezoning request, clearing the way for the new Waffle House.
At the time, Alexander said while she loves neighborhoods, it was clear the rezoning request was an attempt to preempt a specific business. She said that’s bad for Salisbury.
“I can’t support that,” she said. “I just think it’s wrong.”
Kennedy praised the work Alexander did with the Salisbury Community Development Corporation to revitalize the Park Avenue neighborhood a decade ago.
Woodson said he decided not to open the nominations to the public because he already had three well-qualified finalists, chosen from eight to 10 nominations. He would not disclose the nominees and said no one filled out an application.
He said he was concerned he would be flooded with nominations and wanted to have someone in place before the February retreat. Woodson said he called council members to solicit opinions on who he should interview.
He alone interviewed Alexander and Lewis, and Miller joined the Kersey interview.
Alexander said Tuesday night she was humbled by the appointment and still doesn’t know who nominated her.
“I have always appreciated the tone and the way that the councilmen and councilwomen over the years have served,” she said. “I’ve always felt that they tackled the difficult issues in a very civil manner, always looking at the larger picture.”
As a planner and architect, that’s important to her, Alexander said.
“It’s creating a vision and then working toward that, and it may take many year to accomplish,” she said.
Alexander, 62, lives in the West Square Historic District and has been a Salisbury resident for 24 years. She served on the steering committee for the Vision 2020 plan. She ran for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education in 2005 and lost to Jean Kennedy, who Alexander said “has done a spectacular job.”
While initially working to get up to speed with the council’s current goals, Alexander said eventually she would like to use her new office to help develop a small business incubator. Woodson also wants a business incubator in Salisbury.
Alexander described herself as a consensus-builder and said she has a “real passion for creating partnerships and opportunities for small businesses.”
While the community works to lure large industry, Alexander said many small businesses can have the same impact with less risk. If one small business fails, only a handful of people lose their jobs, she said.
“We focus so much on getting that one big business here,” she said. “What happens if we focus on lot of smaller businesses.”
Although she could not participate because she has not taken the oath, Alexander attended the joint meeting Tuesday between City Council and the school board to discuss the proposed central office, which she called an exciting partnership.
Her current architectural projects include a building at Hood Theological Seminary and an orthodontist office in Greensboro. Alexander has carved out a niche designing homes for families with special needs children, with two homes going up in Carrboro and Hendersonville.
Alexander will complete Kluttz’s term and said she plans to run for election to City Council in November.
Kluttz said her 15 years on City Council have been the “highlight of my life.”
“I regret that I am not able to finish my last term in office, but I leave confident that the city is on the right track, in good hands, and that progress will continue,” she wrote in a letter to Woodson.
Woodson said Kluttz deserved her “promotion” and wished her the “absolute best.”
With the bad news of her resignation comes some good news, he said.
“As a council, we do not have to run against her anymore. Yes!” he joked. “I only lost to her seven out of eight times.”
Woodson predicted that Kluttz would find a way to help Rowan County and Salisbury in her new appointment.
Miller called Kluttz a “tremendous ambassador” and “calming influence.” Kennedy said Kluttz’s leadership and commitment to equality and diversity were reasons he continued to run for re-election.
“She leaves quite a legacy and continues to build a legacy for herself and our city,” Blackwell said. “She has been a role model for me and for many women in the city.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.