Two tales of one city

By Brandon Martin

As incumbent Kathy Lawson seeks re-election to Martinsville City Council in November, she faces the difficult task of navigating a city which is seeking to change in two different ways.

In one, the city is looking to turn back time by reverting to a town inside Henry County something it hasn’t been since 1928.

“I voted for reversion,” Lawson said. “The ‘idea’ of reversion has been kicked around for years and it is time to follow through.”

For Lawson, 66, the matter comes down to efficiency.

“There are so many services that are duplicated in the city and county that could be a financial benefit for the localities to combine,” she said. “There are many areas other than just the obvious of schools and constitutionals that could be looked at. The door is open to discussion.”

Fortunately, Lawson said the city maintains a solid relationship with county officials.

“We have a good working relationship with our colleagues in the county and they are well respected,” Lawson said. “I believe we can come to the table to talk to work out the details and specifics. A couple of years ago we had representatives from other localities who went through the reversion process come to council to share their experiences. We learned a lot from those folks and believe we can have productive discussions with our county colleagues.”

In the face of reversion, Lawson said that the city is facing increasing costs for insurance and required contributions to benefits on the budget. These are only compounded by costs for capital projects that arise, she added.

“We have an aging infrastructure” combined with “the unknowing of issues that occur that we have no control of,” such as storm damage, she said.

A second perspective is the city’s goal of revitalizing the uptown to appeal to a younger generation.

“My vision is to continue the process to bring our uptown back to vibrancy,” Lawson said. “It is a proven fact that successful communities have successful downtown retail and business centers. I will continue to promote our city because it is a great place to live, work, and enjoy.”

To that end, Lawson said she would pick up the pom-poms as “a cheerleader for our community.”

Work has been done throughout the years to spur revitalization efforts in Uptown by diverting funding from the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. to the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce for small businesses, she said.

“Small businesses are the hub for our uptown,” Lawson said. “This has been successful. We are also working with the Uptown partnership with the pending approval of the Main Street status. We in the city work diligently with the various organizations to promote our existing businesses and provide assistance with new ones.”

Lawson added that by redeveloping the uptown building to accommodate mixed-usage, the city will attract people to the area that will “further develop the growth of our small businesses. We have to work together for the greater good of our city.”

The seeds of redevelopment are already being sewn, she said.

“Repurposing and redeveloping buildings in our uptown area is at the forefront, with two additional buildings in the works,” Lawson said, adding that the buildings would be like the project at the historic Henry Hotel.

In addition, Lawson said the council has implemented strong ordinances regarding property maintenance and instituted a Rental Reinspection program.

“We have taken the positive approach to remove unsafe structures and clean up areas of the city,” she said. “We are bringing positivity back to our community.

She said that having safe neighborhoods and providing quality services to residents has always been a priority.

Having accredited schools and providing resources to provide quality education to our children. We’ve made significant strides in being environmentally responsible, she said.

With all the effort put into the community, Lawson said the city has a lot to pitch to considering relocation.

“We have beautiful outdoor space, cultural amenities, accredited schools, opportunities of higher education through PHCC and NCI, employment opportunities, unlimited broadband,” she said. “We will thrive.

As the city’s first female mayor, Lawson has helped in getting the city to its current state, but she shies away from praise. “I’m not a ‘me’ person, she said.

Instead, she said she believes “council is a cohesive body of representatives of the people working for the common good of the people and the community.”

Lawson said she has been in the position of serving the community in some form for more than 30 years.

“I started volunteering when my children were in elementary school,” she said. “Later on, I joined the Martinsville Jaycees, and community service was a huge part of the Jaycee organization. I love this community and we have wonderful people. It is rewarding to be able to help someone or provide a service for the betterment of our community. Serving others is a gift for me. I have met so many wonderful people and have had my life touched in so many ways.”

When voters cast their ballots this year, Lawson said they should consider a few things about her candidacy.

“I am a proven leader who gives unselfishly of myself for the greater good of our community. I have a listening ear and believe that the government should be as transparent as possible and work for the betterment of all,” she said.

Lawson and her husband, Ralph, have three adult children and seven grandchildren. She currently works as a Personal Lines Manager at Burton and Company. Lawson was educated in both city and county schools, as well as at Patrick Henry Community College.

She currently serves as mayor of the City of Martinsville and is among three incumbents seeking to retain their seats, along with Chad Martin, who currently serves as vice mayor, and Jim Woods. Tammy Pearson and Nelson Edwards also are on the ballot.

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