Mayor Lance Olive may have redecorated the mayor’s office to give a nod to the town’s past.
But it’s clear the town’s future is on his mind as well as the changes that he says are inevitable.
Olive, a former Town Council member, was elected mayor in November. He replaced Bill Sutton, a former town manager who chose not to run for the office after being appointed mayor.
Olive was elected during an occaisionally negative campaign season that saw two factions emerge among candidates: one that favors growth, and one that prefers to slow it down.
Olive campaigned for change. He said it would have been easy to campaign on a platform of keeping the status quo. Apex has been in the spotlight after being named Money magazine’s No. 1 place to live in the country.
But Olive said Apex can be better. Now, just a few months into his first term, he has ideas for changes that range from economic development to rules guiding council members’ interactions.
First, back to his office. His desk is flanked by drawings of downtown buildings as they looked 50 years ago. Off to the side is a yellowed, bound copy of the Apex Herald from 1973, and a plaque from that same year awarded to Olive’s family. Apex was celebrating its centennial then, and his father, Ross, helped organize it. Olive was in elementary school and had just moved to the town where his mother, Nancy, grew up in a family of tenant farmers.
He remembers everyone in town dressing up for the centennial. Stores sold 19th century clothing, and the men grew Civil War-era beards. Yet despite living on a farm, and with his mother’s farming heritage, Olive dressed up like a magician. With a black top hat and a white rabbit, he took off for the parade to do some tricks.
He continued to go against the grain at times as he grew up. When other teens were buying and showing off their first cars, a 16-year-old Olive instead found work driving a school bus of his classmates to Apex High School.
He still gets taken away on tangents. After a vacation to Miami this winter, he’s trying to learn Spanish. Like the magic tricks and short-lived stint as a bus driver, this hobby may or may not last.
But Olive said it’s his ability to jump from issue to issue – to get deeply, if briefly, involved in plenty of topics instead of having a singular focus – that’s going to help him be a good mayor.
Here are some of his thoughts on what will make for a successful first term, and how he plans to approach the office in which he has no vote but plenty of influence.
Olive is a Republican serving on a council with members of all parties, including one who is unaffilated.
“If a council member comes to me with an idea, I’m going to honor that,” he said. “That’s another thing I can do to be true, across the board, as a leader and engender the respect of each council member – without feeling like I’m using some type of phony leverage or manipulation to get things done.”
He said he also wants rules for behavior on the council, including texting during meetings, how to address one another and not talking about fellow members outside Town Hall.
“I’m always going to support the council in a council decision. I’m always going to encourage whoever’s not on the side of the winners, if you will, to accept the will of the majority. That’s what a functional body does. ... Everybody at some point’s going to be on a losing side. And you have to be able to deal with it to be a happy person.”
His style is focused on maintaining order while encouraging discussion.
“Regardless of whether the proposal passes or fails, if we did it with honor and with dignity and with order, then it’s a decision to be respected. And no one can say, ‘That got railroaded,’ or ‘You didn’t give me my opportunity to have a say.’ ... In America, that’s what makes us different, I think. We all have the ability to disagree, and in the end we can move on. Maybe not hug, but understand this was the decision made by the majority.”
“I’m working very actively with (Economic Development Director) Joanna Helms. We’ve already done a couple of site visits, and we’re creating a calendar where she and I are going to go to existing companies and also meet with potential companies. We’re keeping that engine going, and it’s going to be a nonstop, ongoing thing.
“But activity does not make for accomplishments. I want metrics. I want to set some goals. What are we going to measure ourselves doing? Visits are great, but I want something else. Do we land something? Do we create two certified sites? Those kind of things.”
Responding to critics
Olive had responses for the council’s recent denials of possible new businesses.
“I’ve heard a couple people say, ‘Well, you guys approved the last two residential developments and you turned down the Lidl grocery store and CrossRoads Ford. You guys are just all talk. You’re not delivering.’ My challenge to them is first of all, the most recent four projects – two of each (residential and nonresidential) – do not constitute a pattern. Secondly, just because we turn down a project as a council doesn’t mean that we don’t think it’s a great project. It may be a great project, but in the wrong place.”
Olive also said there will be many more chances to make Apex into less of a bedroom community.
“You only have to approve commercial over residential at a 1:4 ratio, and you’re turning the ship the other way. And quickly.”
Olive has thoughts on requiring large developments to set aside land for future schools.
“The school system is large. Maybe too large. And when they can’t keep up, and they wait until the demand is there to buy land, it’s too late already.”
Should Apex have voting districts like other area municipalities?
“Western Apex, west of (N.C.) 55, is underrepresented. It’s almost half the population, and there’s only one representative (Nicole Dozier) who lives on that side of town.”
Town hall meeting
He is considering holding a Town Hall-style meeting in the future for residents to voice their opinions and concerns.
“There will be some ground rules for that, whether it’s Q&A or just, ‘Council, just sit and listen while we gripe.’ And I don’t mean to say gripe like it’s not legitimate. I think some gripes are legitimate.”
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran