Bringle’s time as China Grove mayor ends during Tuesday meeting

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

CHINA GROVE — Don Bringle will always be the town’s mayor.

In a speech during China Grove’s town council meeting on Tuesday, newly elected Mayor Lee Withers said there’s certain titles that never expire.

“There are few titles that remain with you once you depart from office — president, senator, governor and mayor,” Withers said. “And Don, you will always be our mayor. Don is a major reason I’ve had the honor to sit before you for the last eight years (on the town council). With his guidance, I now have the honor to take the mayor’s seat for the next four. I can honestly say that China Grove is a better place because of your leadership.”

Bringle, who served as mayor for 12 years and two terms on the town council, chose not to run for re-election this year. Instead, he tossed his support behind Withers, who was previously China Grove’s mayor pro tem. Withers was sworn in as mayor on Tuesday. Councilman Steve Stroud was picked as mayor pro tem and Rodney Phillips was sworn in as a town councilman.

For Bringle, it’s a quasi retirement, at least from politics. Bringle still works for Rowan County as the parks and facilities director and is involved in the China Grove community. When asked about future plans on Tuesday, Bringle tossed around whether he would serve on a citizen board, such as the planning board, in the future.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Bringle is simply a grandfather. Before the meeting, he smiled as his granddaughter sat in the mayor’s chair and looked out over the town council meeting room. When the meeting ended, Bringle plopped down in a chair beside his granddaughter and enjoyed a snack.

“You know, honestly I’m just looking forward to having more family time,” he said.

Bringle’s political career began nearly 30 years ago, when he tossed his name into a monumental field of China Grove Town Council candidates. His mother-in-law, former county commissioner and former China Grove Town Council member Jamima DeMarcus encouraged him to run. Bringle said family friend Glenn Tyson was also a factor in his initial involvement in politics. Despite the odds — being one of 16 candidates and running for the first time — Bringle fell three votes shy of scoring a spot on the town council.

“I do not claim to know all the answers, but I am willing to work with and be a part of a team effort to make China Grove a town that demonstrates pride and harmony among its citizens,” he told the Post in a 1985 article.

He ran eight years later and took first place among all candidates. Bringle served multiple terms on the town council and as mayor pro tem.

Bringle isn’t a China Grove native — he’s originally from Spencer — but Historical Society of South Rowan Chairwoman Barbara Doby says Bringle has been a vital part of the town’s development.

“It’s because of Don that China Grove is what it is today,” she said. “There’s no one like him because he walks the walk and stays true to who he is.”

Bringle said he never quite planned to be mayor, but he tossed his name into the 2003 race and won by a wide margin. Running against incumbent Joe Sloop, Bringle won by more than three times his competitor’s total. It was a relatively quiet contest. As friends, the pair declined to bad-mouth each other.

Town Manager Ken Deal, a longtime friend of Bringle, said he’ll miss Bringle’s leadership.

“I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Don for about 30 years,” Deal said in an emailed statement. “As Town manager of China Grove, I was fortunate to have worked with him for the past five years. During my tenure as Manager, I have found Don to be compassionate, caring, and understanding in his role as Mayor. He always strives to provide the very best for the citizens of China Grove. He will be missed as mayor.”

Bringle said the most significant accomplishment by town officials in his years as mayor was shifting from a town-owned water and sewer system to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. The result is a more cost-effective solution for town government. It also saves money for taxpayers, Bringle said. He also touted the town’s current leadership and cited the importance that all top town officials live in China Grove’s municipal limits.

He pondered future projects for the town. Bringle mentioned the possibility of a bond referendum for road repairs and building a fire station on the east side of railroad tracks. Ensuring a low tax rate is also important for China Grove residents, he said, and future opportunities for the town.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.