July 9, 2006

Martinsville is on the verge of an economic transformation, newly elected Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. believes.

New companies have moved to the area in recent years, so he thinks Martinsville and Henry County will be successful in their efforts to lure more new companies in the future while diversifying a local economy long based on textile and furniture manufacturing.

Yet to ultimately sustain itself, Reynolds said, the community must become more attractive to young people. That will encourage local students who go off to college to return after they graduate to pursue careers, as well as lure young people from other areas to work here.

Reynolds, a 39-year-old lawyer, said he thinks the New College Institute in Martinsville will be a major force in drawing young people to the area. Many young people in Virginia want to attend college in the state, yet many state-supported institutions are near their enrollment capacities, he said.

Still, local leaders must figure out what — other than a four-year college or university — lures young people to a community and work to provide those amenities, he said. Programs to develop leadership among young residents also must be developed, he added.

“We’ve got to put more effort into looking for creative solutions” to issues affecting the community, Reynolds said. That might include looking at other localities’ approaches to handling common problems and then duplicating them, he said.

“To maintain the status quo is not an option,” he emphasized. “It’s not acceptable,” and he thinks most area residents agree.

Even as it tries to attract new residents, the city also must be responsive and sensitive to current residents’ needs, especially to retirees “who have been faithful to Martinsville,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, who has been on the Martinsville City Council for two years, said he has found no major weaknesses in city services or how those services are provided. But there always is room for improvement, he admitted.

For instance, he indicated that the city should try to respond more quickly to residents’ complaints about property maintenance issues such as junked vehicles and overgrown grass. Yet he recognizes that city public works staff is limited in time and resources, he said.

Martinsville City Council plans to start holding periodic meetings in neighborhoods again. The practice, which was designed to help residents communicate with city officials, was stopped several years ago after council sessions started being televised.

Previous neighborhood meetings often did not attract many residents. But “at least you should afford them the opportunity” to talk with council members, even if they do not respond, Reynolds said.

Two new members, Mark Anderson and Kathy Lawson, joined the council on July 1. They replaced Terry Roop, who did not run for a third term, and former mayor Joe Cobbe, who was defeated in the May 2 election.

“We have a good council, a balanced council now,” Reynolds said, pointing out that his remark was not meant to slight any previous members.

Each of the five council members will bring a unique understanding of different aspects of the community to the table, he said.

He said that Anderson, who is chief financial officer for Memorial Hospital, has a strong financial background and Lawson is knowledgeable about local civic activities due to her involvement in them.

Councilman James Clark is a retired city firefighter. He and Councilman Ron Ferrill, who is the longest-serving council member, have become extremely knowledgeable about city operations, Reynolds said.

While he is not the city’s attorney, Reynolds said his legal experience could benefit the council. His participation in the Lead Virginia program a few years also helps, he said, because he has seen how local issues — especially ones facing many communities — affect the region as well as the entire state.

As mayor, “I look forward to bringing these folks together as a team so we’re moving in the same direction,” he said.

Unlike in some cities where voters directly elect mayors, Martinsville mayors are elected from among council members. Reynolds was elected in a 3-2 vote at the council’s July 1 organizational meeting.

Reynolds is only the second African-American mayor in the city’s history. He said that he does not see his race as relevant to his post. But he hopes people will realize Martinsville is “an inclusive community” in terms of allowing people from all backgrounds to help in decision-making, he said.

Reynolds said he did not run for a council seat in hopes of eventually being mayor.

Yet as a councilman, “you wonder if it would be possible” to someday be mayor, he said. “I can’t say that the thought didn’t cross my mind.”

At his first council meeting, he was elected vice mayor, which he said was “very humbling, the fact that (council members) had confidence in me.”

“I consider it an honor and a privilege” to now be mayor, Reynolds said, adding that his main concern is “doing a good job.”