After nearly two decades of serving as Pineville’s mayor, George Fowler will step down this December. He will be replaced by challenger John “Jack” Edwards.
Edwards’ win in November’s election came as a shock to many residents in Pineville, especially given that Fowler has run unopposed for the past decade. He’s served as mayor since 1995.
But this year, Fowler faced challengers Libby Boatwright – who served for years on Pineville’s Town Council – and Edwards, who has served on Pineville’s Parks and Recreation Steering Committee.
Edwards beat Fowler by 12 votes – 282 to 270, according to unofficial but complete election results.
Fowler could not be reached for comment.
“It was exciting to win. It really overwhelmed me,” said Edwards, 71. “I never went into it thinking that I wouldn’t win so it was just hard work and door-to-door talking to a lot of people over five to six weeks.”
During the years, residents have come to recognize Edwards, even if they didn’t know his name.
“(Edwards) was initially known by his two Great Danes. He walks throughout town several times a day,” said Councilwoman Melissa Davis.
Edwards, who lives in the Pineville Forest townhome community, is a retired manager of a local manufacturing firm. He regularly walks his dogs, Maggie and Rambo, around town with his wife, Jyl.
Edwards said he sees a lot of potential in Pineville, the town he’s lived in for 14 years.
“It’s a diamond in the rough. It’s sitting in the perfect place. It can be whatever it desires to be,” he said. “There’s so much potential here for business.”
He said he is interested in working with downtown merchants to revitalize the strip. He also has been speaking regularly with Fred Godley, the owner of the closed Cone mill near downtown.
“That’s the elephant in the room,” said Edwards. “It’s just been sitting there for 25, 26 years. I’m talking with Fred about what’s rumor and what’s possible there.”
But his first priority will be to help the town’s new administrator, Haynes Brigman, settle in.
Officials hired Brigman, 31, of Yanceyville in October. He will start on Nov. 27.
“It’s an exciting time. I’m very much looking forward to helping Pineville move toward the next step of its growth, without changing the texture and historic part,” said Edwards. “I’m young at heart and I’m ready to roll.”
Council members said they’re looking forward to working with Edwards, although at least one said he’s concerned about Edwards’ lack of municipal experience.
“I do have some concerns with Jack having no prior municipal government experience and taking on such a demanding job,” said Councilman David Phillips. “I know this current council will work hard to get him settled in and on his feet. Getting Jack prepared for this position ... will require some extensive training and long hours, which Jack has acknowledged he is willing to put in.”
Interim town administrator Ed Humphries said that Edwards will not be in town to be sworn into his new position. Typically the new mayor and council members are sworn in during the December meeting, which falls on the 10th this year.
But Edwards had planned a three-week vacation more than a year ago and he will lose money if he doesn’t go, said Humphries.
Phillips, the mayor pro tem, will preside over the board between the time that Fowler steps down Dec. 10. and Edwards joins the board as mayor at the Jan. 14 meeting, said Humphries.
In the wake of the elections, staff and officials said they appreciated the contributions Fowler’s made to the town during the years.
“George is a natural leader,” said Humphries. “I think he understands Pineville and is very passionate about it. He has tried to lead Pineville in a positive direction by working with his council and staff.”
Davis said Fowler was a great mentor when she started her first term in 2011.
“He was a great teacher, open-minded and supportive,” she said. “He has a deep compassion and commitment to the town of Pineville.”
She recalled how Fowler helped oversee several major changes in town, including the construction of a new police station as well as the Jack D. Hughes Memorial Park.
“I have seen firsthand the devotion and drive he has for Pineville,” said Phillips. “He has on numerous occasions placed his family plans and his personal business issues on hold while working on critical issues regarding the town.”
The insurance agency owner most recently led the town through a difficult period in which it didn’t have a finance director or town administrator for several months.
Ultimately, after months of searching, officials hired experienced municipal employee Ed Humphries in July as a part-time, interim town administrator. Michael Hicks was hired as interim finance director.
“I would say this past term was probably the most demanding on George,” Phillips said. “George’s hours and responsibilities more than doubled during these past two years and again he rose to the occasion primarily due to his overwhelming passion for the town.”
Humprhies said Fowler has been a stable force in the town throughout the changes.
“George had a very consistent way of leading,” said Humphries. “The town has changed drastically since he first started but he’s helped bring a lot of stable growth to the community.”
Phillips added that Fowler is well respected at the local and state levels and is known for being a “fair and open-minded individual and willing to listen to everyone’s side before voicing his opinion.”
Fowler also holds the distinction for being the longest serving mayor in Mecklenburg County, said Phillips.
“Jack has some very large shoes to fill, however this entire council will be there to support him in his efforts,” said Phillips. “We all wish him the best for him in his new role and we look forward to moving forward with him as Pineville’s new mayor.”
Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero