Aaron Rawls said he asked himself ‘If not me, then who,’ before deciding to throw his hat in the ring and seek election to the Martinsville City Council in November, spurred on by what he calls a lack in the status quo – a “lack of vision, lack of leadership.”
While Rawls, 40, is convinced Martinsville officials lack vision, it doesn’t really matter, because his vision includes long and short-term goals, what he calls “both a future state and a current state goal.
“The current is to bring my management and leadership experience to the council,” Rawls said, adding that he believes he is the only council member or candidate with any significant organizational leadership experience, which feeds into his ‘future state’ goal.
“For the future state, it is my sincere hope that I’ll be the first of many reinvigorated professionals who wish to participate on council. At some point, we once had a professional council and that fell away somehow over the past couple decades,” Rawls said.
Rawls, who has lived in Martinsville for 10 years, expressed his love for the city.
“I believe I have a pretty good notion of the charm and value of Martinsville. It’s the perfect place for people who are looking for a good, affordable, simple life,” he said. “I want to orient our efforts and our resources towards growing Martinsville slightly, to revitalize our homes, and bring some new people to our community who can help grow our tax base and support our local businesses.”
Rawls also is interested in building the population to its former state. It is his hope that in doing this, the city can support a wider variety of attractions and activities.
“I would really like to see us return to about 1990s level population, which is about 16,000 people,” he said. “That’s roughly 2,000 more people than we have today, and I think that returns us to a point in time where we could support a diversity of restaurants, boutiques, shopping experiences, and also group growth community opportunities. Things like faith-based groups, churches, and so forth. Daycares, playgroups, those sorts of things.”
Rawls believes the first step to that is attracting those who really care about Martinsville to serve on council. It is his hope to have five qualified members in those roles by 2024.
“With a really hard push and some really smart, energetic people behind it, we can get to that 16,000 number and really take Martinsville to the next level,” he said.
Another issue Rawls noted is that residents seem to have grown “apathetic” because they do not believe their council listens to them. He said those considering campaigning face a similar struggle because they do not want to serve with the people on council. If elected, he plans to listen just as he is now during the campaign, and he wants to encourage others to run in the future.
“I’ve noticed going door to door, speaking at events, a lot of people have just checked out, and for the first time are finally feeling like they can talk to someone who will listen, that they will actually have a voice,” Rawls said. “My goal is to continue reaching out, encouraging people to participate, going to people who I know have expressed interest and have the skill set that we’re looking for and basically putting them on the spot and saying, ‘Hey, we need you.'”
Regarding reversion, Rawls wants to stop it “immediately,” but he believes the only fair way to decide is a referendum to let residents decide.
“If we allow a referendum, not only do we have a direct way of hearing those voices, but I also think it puts us through the process that we should have done to begin with, which is publicly present our case. The city did not do that. The city hid far too much from the public, it presented misinformation, and tried to counter what they called ‘misinformation,’ but never provided clarifying statistics or figures,” he said.
A group of five people is not qualified to make a decision of this size or magnitude of reversion, he said. That decision should be put into the hands of the people.
“The five people who are up there now, who really are in no way, shape, or form qualified to make a decision like this, sets the wrong approach,” Rawls said. “I think it would be just as wrong an approach for new people to come in there and make the same big decision, just in the opposite way. I think a referendum is the only legitimate way out of here at this point.
Martinsville also is excelling in many areas, which Rawls credits to its residents, who have “done an amazing job showcasing Martinsville on their own.
“We’ve had a number of businesses that started up within the last few years or not long thereafter. A really good example is Uptown Pinball. That is a business that started with a vision, a purpose, and they pursued it absolutely relentlessly, and now it’s bringing people from about a two hour radius,” Rawls said.
He hopes to return Martinsville to a destination that will attract visitors from all over to enjoy the things the city has to offer.
“There’s a little bit of nostalgia here, even for me who’s only lived here 10 years. People used to come to Martinsville to do things,” Rawls said. “They would come from Greensboro, they would come from Roanoke, and so forth. I really like just the notion of people coming from these areas … I love the idea of bringing that back.”
Rawls decided to run after he was encouraged by member of city government, after he spoke out during a council meeting about $4.5 million of ARPA money being dedicated to Uptown Partnership.
“That’s how I got involved. People engaged me from our government. They kind of warmed me up to the idea of that “if not me, then who?” And if I don’t start this thing, no one ever will.”
Rawls hopes his momentum will inspire residents to pick up the gauntlet and once again get involved in city government.
“Martinsville is an amazing place to live, so let’s elect people who act like it. I’d like to ask people to help me bring back competence, bring back dignity, and let’s have a government that we can be proud of,” he said.
Rawls is the Chief Information Officer for Madison Taylor Marketing and a local business owner. He has a bachelor’s degree in Management and Marketing from University of South Carolina and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. In his free time, he enjoys dog rescue and remodeling historic homes.