It’s true that Jon Cawley and Stephen Yokeley have had no opponents to worry about for Tuesday’s election, which has only given them more opportunities to contemplate city government challenges lying ahead.
Cawley is running unopposed for a North Ward seat on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners which he has occupied on an interim basis since Sept. 18, 2008, after the resignation of Tom Bagnal.
After more than a year of listening and learning about local issues, Cawley is looking forward to beginning a full four-year term and helping guide Mount Airy through “a time of transition” regarding its leadership.
Yokeley, meanwhile, has never served in public office before, but is ready to get rolling as a South Ward commissioner and try to make what he considers “a great place to live and work” even better.
Despite having no opposition, both men are hoping citizens cast ballots for them in Tuesday’s election highlighted by a mayoral battle between Commissioner Deborah Cochran and Teresa Lewis.
Cawley, 46, a local minister, indicated during an interview Friday that not having election opposition has been a double-edged sword.
“I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to focus on trying to be an effective commissioner, and able to be somewhat of a bystander and listen as people are running for mayor and the concerns and hopes people have for their city,” he said.
“And even though they’re talking about the position of mayor, I think most of it translates into decisions that the commissioners can and will make,” Cawley said of issues identified during the campaign.
Those upcoming actions will occur as city government weathers a period of change. Cawley said that with both Mayor Jack Loftis and South Ward Commissioner David Beal soon stepping down, Mount Airy will be losing years of experience and expertise.
“I think it’s going to certainly be a time of transition,” Cawley said, adding that at this point no one knows who will be mayor. And since Commissioner Cochran is involved, her election to that position would require appointing “Person X” to fill her seat, he said, which could mean another new commissioner along with Yokeley.
“It’s going to be different,” Cawley said.
Regardless of which officials will be there, he added that they still will have to meet the challenges.
Cawley said the goals for his first complete term include making government more accessible to citizens, an issue frequently cited during the campaign season. He advocates using all available means to make the public aware of upcoming business and providing information allowing taxpayers to feel involved.
“And the spectrum on that is wide-open,” he said of the possibilities for fulfilling this goal.
“I think we should do a better job of educating the citizens of Mount Airy and Surry County as to why we’ve made the decisions that we’ve made,” Cawley added.
And municipal officials shouldn’t be afraid of criticism, especially proposals relating to expenditures, he said. “When we’ve been in office so long that we think we have a right to people’s money, we should be removed or remove ourselves,” Cawley said.
The North Ward commissioner further is interested in expanding recycling efforts, partly to reduce tipping fees the city now must pay for items hauled to the landfill, which more recycling would help offset.
Cawley also wants Mount Airy to do more to aid its small businesses, and seek additional ways to market its water surplus. “We have to sell water to the county and anybody else that will buy it,” he said.
In view of recent events here such as the Donna Fargo Highway dedication, Cawley additionally thinks various actions should be taken to “expand reasons that people come to Mount Airy.”
“People are coming to Mount Airy and falling in love with the people ... and the lifestyle,” he said.
Above all, Cawley said he will maintain a philosophy of trying to identify with average citizens and be attentive to their concerns. “I think I’m as common as sawdust and I think everybody else is, too,” said the down-to-earth commissioner, who indicated that he doesn’t ever forget he is a public servant.
“I don’t feel like I have accomplished much,” Cawley said of his first year in office. “I feel like I raise questions that are citizens’ concerns, and try to study issues in-depth. A lot of it is knowing which questions to ask. I feel like I’m getting better at doing that.”
Yokeley Outlines Concerns
Not having to actively campaign against an opponent has given Yokeley more time to consider the job ahead when he takes office in early December.
“The main thing is jobs,” said Yokeley, 62, who was a dentist for 33 years and now works in the real estate field, which he has been involved in for almost four years.
“I want to make sure the lines of communication are open between the county commissioners and the Surry Economic Development Partnership, and make sure we are all working together to get some new employers in here,” Yokeley added during an interview Friday.
The soon-to-be-South Ward commissioner also shares some of Cawley’s objectives, including working for more openness in city government.
“The main concern I’ve heard is people just want information — they just want to know what is happening,” Yokeley said. He said there is a sentiment that “things haven’t been as open as they could have been.”
Another such issue revolves around the municipal budget, according to Yokeley. “There has been a lot of concern expressed to me over the expenses of the city government.” This mirrors issues cited by other candidates recently about Mount Airy’s levels of indebtedness and taxation in addition to certain expenditures.
Yokeley also agrees that Mount Airy should expand its water sales. “It’s a great resource that we have,” he said, citing the need to market city water to consumers throughout the county and other municipalities.
He said the city also could explore trading water for other services, such as recycling.
“One goal I have is to make sure we try to get cooperation with everybody,” Yokeley said of the necessity of working with other officials in the county on mutually beneficial projects.
Citizens will be able to count on him to make definitive decisions that result from a thorough analysis of all issues from every angle, Yokeley pledges.
“I’m a good listener. I listen to every concern and opinion and I have a big background in research,” he said. “I’m a researcher and I like to make sure I get all the facts before I make a decision ... and then try to make the right one.”
He added, “I think the people will know where I stand. I usually give a yes or no answer, and not maybe or possibly.”
However, Yokeley’s main goal as a council member will simply be working with his fellow officials “for a better Mount Airy.”
“I love living in Mount Airy and I’m a big proponent of living and working here, and it’s a great place to work and live,” he said.
“And I think I can make it even better.”
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com or at 719-1924.