WAXHAW – On Election Day, Ron Pappas said he believed Waxhaw had fallen off of its tracks. Now that he’s been sworn in as mayor, he wants to move the town in the right direction.
Throughout his campaign, he met friendly and excited people who also felt concerned about Waxhaw. However, he met many new people in the town, offering a new perspective on the issues.
“There seemed to be a fresh version of what might have been here in the past,” Pappas said.
He said residents were concerned about the building and development in Waxhaw, along with the traffic. He told them the town needs to work with surrounding municipalities, the county and the state to manage its growth and roadways.
Pappas said surrounding municipalities’ ratios of residential development to other development is 75-25, with some at 50-50. He said Waxhaw’s ratio is 93-7.
“We need to try to move the needle a little bit back, and it’s going to take some effort,” Pappas said. “There just seems to be a lot of initiatives in the town that we do study after study after study and then, nothing happens. That is the feedback that I got from some of the residents that I’ve talked to.”
Focusing on commercial development rather than residential development is one of Pappas’s biggest goals for his term. He also hopes to work with his board to bring back a sense of unity to the town commission and staff. The commission is comprised of Brenda McMillon, Kat Lee, Pedro Morey, Anne Simpson and Tracy Wesolek.
“I’m feeling really good about where we’re going,” Pappas said. “I’ve met with all of our department heads and a lot of our staff and the other leadership in town, and I’m feeling that we’re more unified than what might have been perceived in the past.”
One strength of this board in his eyes is the mix of experienced and new board members. He believes this will be an advantage because they will not be as mired in some issues as previous boards.
Pappas believes previous boards were interested, well-intentioned people who made an effort and did what they were used to, but he believes this fresh start will allow the town to get back on track.
“We have a really good start here,” Pappas said. “We still have a couple of experienced board members on there, which is helpful to guide us through. One of the platforms I ran on is that in my professional life in the real estate business and home-building business, I think I can bring perspective on how we might be able to shape the town going forward. I’m really excited for it.”
Pappas said during the transition period, former mayor Stephen Maher was very helpful in identifying the objectives his board tried to achieve and introducing Pappas to important figures in the town.
One of his short-term goals is to hire a town manager for Waxhaw. Erskine Smith serves as the interim town manager. Pappas said the commission is interviewing potential town managers and hopes to have one picked within the first 90 days of their term.
He said the commission also needs to hire a new finance director.
“If we can achieve those, we’ll have hit a big milestone,” Pappas said.
Long-term goals as a commission still need to be identified. Pappas said he would like members to see what their real, attainable goals are.
“We’ve got a lot of moving parts,” Pappas said. “Things change. It just seems like, what I hear from people in the town and staff as well, they’d head out in one direction and then it never gets changed. So they put a lot of time, energy and effort into an initiative, but it never happens. And they’re expected to do their regular job, if you will, and move things forward and keep things up, and that’s a lot to ask. So I’d like to see that change as well.”
Two challenges he sees moving forward are staffing and residential development.
Pappas said he wants to look at how the town can be more efficient in its staffing and where it needs to bolster a lot of people in its staff, especially in the parks and recreation and event planning departments.
“We have a lot of things to do,” Pappas said. “If you just look at parks and rec or the event planners, they undertake a big job every year, so do we have enough people to run those?”
When it comes to residential development, Pappas said the town does not profit from it very much. He would like to correct this in the future and look at other areas of efficiencies.
Though there will be challenges, Pappas sees a lot of strengths in Waxhaw, particularly its downtown.
“It’s charming, it’s quaint, it’s everything everyone wishes they had in their hometown, but they don’t,” Pappas said. “Even in some of the surrounding communities, there’s very little left after the area has evolved. It can be almost a ghost town in other areas where the buildings are abandoned. I think we have a lot to build from.”
Pappas said another strength of the town is its people. He said there are new people bringing new ideas to the town, giving them “a whole menu to choose from” regarding which direction the town can go in.
He hopes to engage more with Waxhaw residents throughout his term. Pappas plans to hold a community discussion one night a week in which he or a commissioner will answer residents’ questions and address their concerns. He said this will be a great way to get back to residents on things they may have brought up in a public forum but could not get an immediate answer. He said at these community discussions, he will give the best answer he has at the time.
As he begins his term, Pappas hopes to see more community involvement in the future from all areas of Waxhaw.
“I’d like to see people feel comfortable and I want to make sure we’re approachable to them and everybody can be heard,” Pappas said. “It doesn’t mean everybody’s going to get their way, including me, but I think there’s a willingness to come forward now. I’m hoping to enjoy that.”