Jack Smith first visited Cary Town Hall for the same reason many residents do: to complain about a proposed development.
Smith became involved in town politics shortly after moving from the northeast to Cary in 1986 when developers wanted to build a high-density project next to his subdivision.
“I was a ‘NIMBY,’ ” Smith said in a recent interview, referring to the acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”
He spoke at meetings and tried to gather as much information as possible about the project and Cary’s land use plans.
The project was ultimately built elsewhere. But Smith was disenchanted by the way some town leaders treated him.
He ran for Cary Town Council in 1988 on a platform that promoted transparency and quality constituent services. Turns out, he was onto something.
Smith has been re-elected to the council six times since then and has been serving for 25 years – the longest tenure of any Cary mayor or Town Council member.
Last month, Cary leaders showed their gratitude for their colleague by voting unanimously to name the park being built on Penny Road after him.
At 50 acres, Jack Smith Park will include a large children’s play area, the town’s second dog park, a climbing rock, picnic shelters, trails and an open lawn area. The town also plans to install whirligigs by the late artists Vollis Simpson and several sheep sculptures by William Moore.
“He always put his community and the citizens first,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said during a groundbreaking ceremony at the park on Sept. 27. “His service is nothing short of a small sacrifice.”
Responsive to residents
Smith represents council district C, which stretches from Cary Towne Boulevard in the north to Ten-Ten Road in the south. He describes his governing philosophy as one that prioritizes fiscal conservatism, “smart growth” and preserving the environment.
He recently led the push to impose stiffer penalties on developers who illegally cut down trees in Cary after an apartment complex in his district, Amberwood Apartments, allegedly damaged more than 17,000 square feet of vegetation on its property.
“If that’s the future of the kind of people that are going to invest in Cary, I want them to feel the wrath of Cary citizens and the town of Cary,” Smith said at a council meeting in April.
The 67-year-old Republican said he has no desire to run for higher office because he hates partisan politics and feels that local boards are “the last place where people can get involved and actually make a difference.”
Other town council members like to tease Smith about being old. But Smith, a former Army captain who served a tour in Vietnam, can argue he’s gotten better with age.
He won 59 percent of District C votes in 2001, 63 percent in 2005, 65 percent in 2009, and 70 percent last year against political newcomer Deborah Pugh.
“He’s very loyal to his constituents and he’s very responsive,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said. “When constituents contact him, he quickly gets back with them and is very empathetic.”
Smith said he has stayed on the council so long – and plans to continue running for the seat – because he enjoys helping people solve problems.
“When I get a really angry email, I like to look the person up and call them,” he said.
Smith, a longtime corporate talent recruiter and businessman, is known as an effective liaison between developers and residents.
“When developments have been proposed in his district that aren’t harmonious with surrounding neighborhoods, he’s done a good job working with the developer to amend the project … or simply vote against it,” Councilman Don Frantz said.
Smith has served under four mayors and with more than a dozen other council members – some of whom had competing agendas. Smith’s colleagues credit him for helping maintain a culture of respect and civility.
“The steadiness of our councils, very different councils over very many years, has been largely guided or substantially influenced by Jack and his viewpoints,” Town Manager Ben Shivar told the crowd at the park groundbreaking.
“So the look and feel of the Cary you see today … his influence has helped to shape that,” Shivar said.