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Retiring council member cites city’s strong points
Kimble Reynolds Jr.: 'We are our hardhest critics'
Martinsville Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. spoke at his last city council meeting Dec. 11. He did not seek re-election in November, and will leave the council on Monday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, December 30, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville is in much better shape than some people think it is, according to Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr.
He reflected on the city’s situation as he prepares to leave Martinsville City Council on Monday, having not sought re-election after serving two four-year terms.
The city has issues to overcome, he acknowledged, but so do most places.
“Sometimes I think we are our harshest critics,” Reynolds said of residents. He noted that people elsewhere whom he has met hold Martinsville and its accomplishments in high regard, despite economic troubles.
Martinsville has had Virginia’s highest unemployment rate for many years as many of its manufacturers have closed. That has factored into budget constraints in city government. For example, the city is receiving less tax revenue as a result of having fewer businesses and a declining population.
Reynolds, a lawyer, thinks the key to attracting companies that will create new jobs is to improve the skill and education levels of local workers.
He was an early proponent of the New College Institute (NCI), a state- and Harvest Foundation-funded school uptown providing local access to various bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered by universities statewide.
“I think the message is finally starting to hit home” that to get high-paying jobs in the modern workforce, people must have some type of educational credential beyond a high school diploma, Reynolds said.
Amid efforts to streamline the process for students to enter NCI programs after attending Patrick Henry Community College for two years, Reynolds is optimistic that more area residents will pursue degrees in the future.
Reynolds said he envisions that during the next decade, “we’ll continue to refine the positioning of Martinsville” as an economically competitive locality, such as by striving to attract modern technology-based firms and ensuring people have the skills needed to work for them.
Twenty years from now, “the community is going to be very different” in terms of the diversity of its industry and other businesses, he predicted.
Concerns have been voiced, Reynolds said, that not enough residents from different racial and socioeconomic groups have been involved in local affairs.
He said he thinks several leadership development programs launched in the community in recent years will reverse that trend as long as people continue to try and recruit different types of people into them.
Already, Reynolds said, “I think we do a good job” of getting people involved in government and civic activities. But people must strive to make sure people feel invited to participate “even if we don’t know them,” he said.
As a council member, Reynolds has been involved in organizations such as the Virginia First Cities coalition, Virginia Municipal League and the National League of Cities. That has helped him generate ideas to improve the city, based on ideas that have worked elsewhere, and find out about funding opportunities for city projects, he said.
In talking to people from other communities, Reynolds said, he has realized that Martinsville has become known throughout Virginia — and even in other states — for having a high quality of life.
He said that is bolstered by residents’ friendliness, attractions such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History and public schools that former governor and newly-elected Sen. Tim Kaine once described as the best in the state.
“They’re surprised,” he said of people elsewhere, “that we’ve been able to achieve so much with the limited resources we have.”
Reynolds noted other city achievements in his eight years on the council, such as the development of walking trails and a public bus system.
“There are some things that I had my handprint on,” such as the Piedmont Area Regional Transit (PART) buses, he recalled.
But “I can’t take personal credit for any one particular thing” that has been accomplished during his tenure, he said. “It’s been a team effort” by all of the council.
Government is like a machine, Reynolds said, in that it has a lot of moving parts, all of which must turn in the same direction to accomplish things.
He admitted that as a councilman, he has been surprised at how complex some issues can be and how long it often takes to resolve them, based on state laws dictating how cities operate and legal processes.
Reynolds, 46, first was elected to the council in 2004. He was mayor from July 2006 to June 2008 and vice mayor for three terms. Both offices are elected by the council itself.
“It’s been exciting and rewarding to be part of a team helping to revitalize my hometown,” he said.
Yet as a councilman, “you get to a point where you realize ... the city can benefit from new leadership,” Reynolds said, adding that after eight years, now is “a good time to go.”
He said he wants to devote more time to his law practice and his family, but he plans to remain involved in the community. He used to be on NCI’s board, and he now is chairman of the New College Foundation’s board. The foundation raises private funds to support the institute.
People often can make as much of a contribution in civic activities as they can by holding elected offices, he said.
Reynolds has not ruled out running for either a local or state office in the future. He made an unsuccessful bid for a Virginia House of Delegates seat in 2003, and he said he is approached “quite a bit” to run again.
“I’m not running away from it (another House bid) but I’m not running toward it,” either, he said with a chuckle.