MATTHEWS – John Higdon’s tenure as mayor began Dec. 11 with a prayer.
After taking the oath of office, he asked God to help elected leaders pause to allow time for “peaceful reflection on reconciliation, healing, sharing and giving.”
“May every decision we make be made with generosity of spirit and with our best judgment after careful and informed consideration,” he said.
The meeting allowed outgoing leaders to give their parting words and incoming leaders to express their commitment to serve the community. No drama from the campaign spilled over into the meeting. Leaders were respectful.
Higdon thanked outgoing leaders Paul Bailey, Kress Query and Chris Melton for their service. He also acknowledged those who campaigned but were not elected.
Higdon encouraged colleagues to debate ideas, not personalities. He encouraged colleagues to stand up for one another, particularly when another member is getting attacked for something that is not true.
Commissioners appointed newly-elected Renee Garner to serve as mayor pro-tempore in keeping with tradition of the highest vote-getter representing the town in the mayor’s absence. Her grandfather was a town leader in the 1950s.
“I want to thank all of you who believed I should be sitting up here,” Garner said. “I want to make sure I listen to all of your voices. I welcome them whether I agree with you or not. I’m here to listen to you and make decisions for Matthews based on that.”
Dave Bland, who served as a commissioner from 1985 to 1993, kept his remarks brief.
“Thanks to the town for giving an opportunity to serve you,” Bland said. “I’ll do the best I can.”
The Rev. Larry Whitley recalled how he was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago and needed a bone marrow transplant. When he was recovering in the intensive care unit, the Lord told him to run for office.
Whitley said the Lord told him that the people in government have forgotten who they serve and who sent them there. “Whatever happened during the election, put it behind you,” Whitley said. “God chose you to be here tonight. So let’s support our new mayor and do the very best for the town.”
Commissioner Barbara Dement said it has been an honor to serve for two years.
“I will do my level best to continue to learn and continue to make sure that all of Matthews is taken into consideration and that right decisions are made not just for now but for the future of Matthews in perpetuity,” she said.
Heading into his fifth term, John Urban thanked his wife, former mayors and commissioners and town staff.
He pointed to the holiday stroll and tree lighting, noting how organizers planned to give out a couple hundred goodie bags, but they topped out this year at 725.
“That tells you how wonderful this town has become and how well it’s grown for all the families,” Urban said. “That’s something to reflect on and be proud of this community.”
Jeff Miller, who will serve his seventh term as a commissioner, also mentioned milestones, such as the Sister City relationship with Sainte-Maxime in France, Matthews Alive closing in on $2 million raised for area charities and the record turnout with the town’s tree lighting.
“It makes me very proud in developing and bringing Matthews to what it is today – a vibrant, social and loving community,” Miller said.
He also took pride in a friend mentioning during a concert at the park how visiting Matthews always made her feel like she was in a Hallmark movie.
Outgoing Mayor Paul Bailey said he was proud of contributing to the town’s small town feel, as well as the ability for a resident to call town hall, police or fire and know they will be communicating with an employee that cares.
Bailey credited elected leaders over the years for their tenacity and vision.
“Being on this board and committing to doing what it right for the citizens of this town can cause unwanted personal results for those who serve,” he said. “But it does provide a knowledge that as a representative of the people, you did what was right for all the people and not just selfish interests. It is the core value of serving on this team.”
Outgoing Commissioner Kress Query, who served as mayor from 1969 to 1974 and as a commissioner from 1993 to 2015 and 2017 to 2019, was brief. He doesn’t think there’s ever been an elected group that didn’t have the town’s best interests in mind.
Outgoing Commissioner Chris Melton said during his six years in office, he tried to do everything within appropriateness to support staff, including approving merit pay increases and getting out of their way.
Melton compared serving as commissioner to getting the keys to a neighbor’s home while they go on vacation.
“Someone handed you the keys to the Town of Matthews to watch out for them in their stead, and I tried to never take that lightly. I hope it was visible that I didn’t. I’m madly in love with this town and will continue to be in love with the town.”
Higdon kept the meeting moving briskly with no major flubs. He showcased his dry wit and his disdain for tedious process.
As the board was approving a list of 10 council appointments to groups like the Arts and Science Council and Matthews Chamber of Commerce, he asked the attorney if they could just approve the list with one vote instead of 10 individual votes.
During his mayor’s report, he talked about touring the Honda Aircraft Company in Greensboro with other mayors across the state, noting, “They asked if there were any questions and I asked if they were hiring.”