• 45°

Mr. Woodson goes to Washington

By David Purtell

david.purtell@salisburypost.com

Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson was informed on several major topics, from broadband to education, during the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., last month.

The meeting was held Jan. 21-23 and included seminars on various topics. Mayors from around the country attended, Woodson said, and heard from several speakers, including President Obama, the vice president, Cabinet members, members of Congress, business leaders and educators.

Woodson said education was an important topic at the meeting and that the president’s big push right now is for free community college across the country.

Speakers said the reason for the big push is that so many young people are leaving school with large amounts of debt after earning a four-year degree, but that most jobs in the country only require a two-year degree.

One example was someone who goes to technical school to become a welder can earn $100,000 or more a year, Woodson said.

Woodson said the president is also pushing for apprenticeships to become a common practice again.

Nothing brings more money into the U.S. Treasury than educated people, Woodson said the mayors were told.

Another message to mayors was that having great schools in their cities must be a priority, and that cities with colleges will have more prosperity than those without, because having young people energizes a city.

Woodson said he thinks Rowan County’s education system is heading in the right direction under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.

He said Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, quoted the philosopher John Dewey when she said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The mayors were told teachers for pre-K classes will be in high demand in the coming years, Woodson said, and that it will be crucial to make sure third graders can read at the proper level before they are allowed to go to the next grade.

Obama told the mayors crime is a major problem in the country and that he wants the federal government to do more to help municipalities hire more police officers, Woodson said.

Woodson said a lot of mayors, including himself, discussed their city’s need for more minority police officers. He said there is a huge demand across the country for minority police officers with a four-year degree.

“Every mayor I talk to says the same thing: ‘we’re trying desperately to hire and recruit minority police officers,’” Woodson said.

Woodson said he thinks it would be great if Livingstone College or Catawba College started a four-year program focused on developing minority police officers.

Another topic of discussion was that cities need to have access to high-speed fiber-optic broadband systems in the coming years as the Internet becomes vital to both business and everyday life, Woodson said.

He said he told other mayors who asked about Salisbury’s municipal broadband system that they must be willing to face the political fallout that comes with doing a major project like Salisbury did.

Vice President Biden said communities must work to increase the value of their housing market. He said the value of most people’s net worth is in their home, and the economic crash of 2008 really hurt a lot of people because home values evaporated.

Woodson said city council wants to start a program to offer incentives to people who fix up and increase the value of old homes. He said Salisbury needs nice homes in the $100,000 – $150,000 range in order to attract young families.

When it came to increasing the minimum wage, Woodson said he had a little bit of a back and forth with Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Woodson said the Obama administration wants to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour. He said he told Perez he’s not against raising the minimum wage, but that he thinks there should be a lower minimum wage for teenagers.

Woodson said it’s important to hire young people because, for them, it’s great life training, adding he has several who work at his dry-cleaning business, but that he thinks businesses won’t hire young people if they have to pay them $12 an hour because of all the training that’s necessary.

He said he told the secretary, and other mayors, he thinks a student minimum wage of $8.50 an hour made sense, which led to some back and forth. But Woodson said he eventually got his point across.

Woodson said he took a lot of positive things away from the meeting and was impressed with the number of mayors who were there. He said the number was much higher than in previous years and that he thinks it’s a sign the economy is improving.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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