By Jesse Wood
After garnering 38 percent of the vote in the 2015 mayoral race in Blowing Rock, Charlie Sellers, owner of the Blowing Rock attraction, is once again challenging incumbent Mayor J.B. Lawrence. The 2015 race was decided by less than 450 people.
“I feel like a lot of the citizens have realized that maybe their needs have not been met and I feel like a lot of people feel like it’s time for a change,” said Sellers, when asked about not shying away after losing in the previous municipal election.
J.B. Lawrence has served more than two decades in local government, including 20 years as the mayor of Blowing Rock. If he wins the election in November, he’ll serve his 11th consecutive term as the village’s mayor.
Asked to respond to comments about needing “fresh blood” in the mayor’s office, Lawrence replied, “Well, I will leave that up to the voters. You know, would you want someone with my 28 years experience with municipal government or someone with no experience?”
Sellers is a Blowing Rock native and descendent of the Robbins family. His grandfather is the late Grover C. Robbins Sr., a former mayor of Blowing Rock and founder of the Blowing Rock attraction. Sellers owns an industrial water treatment company down the mountain. After his wife passed away in 2013, Sellers took over the local attraction that’s been in the family since the beginning.
Sellers said he’s running for mayor for a few different reasons:
“I feel like we need increased transparency from the elected officials in our town. I feel like we need more focus on the citizens’ needs and taxpayers’ needs. I think we need to expedite the infrastructure programs that we paid for with the bonds that were approved some years ago by the voters of Blowing Rock and finally, I think it’s not about me or the current mayor, but it’s about the citizens and their needs.”
Sellers pledged to utilize the bond money in a “conservative” and “logical” manner to improve the town’s infrastructure. The $13-million bond, approved in 2014, is currently being used to fund infrastructure projects related to water, sewer, transportation and parks and recreation.
J.B. Lawrence grew up in Cove Creek in Watauga County. He’s married to Lynn, daughter of Betty and Hayden Pitts, who served as Blowing Rock mayor from ’77 to ’83 and ’85 to ’93. Lawrence has worked in the banking industry for much of his career.
Lawrence took offense to comments by Sellers regarding transparency from elected officials. “There is nothing that we do that isn’t done in an open meeting,” Lawrence replied. “We are not a behind the scenes council. If there even appears to be a conflict of interest, we always address that.”
As for expediting the infrastructure programs associated with the bond, Lawrence said the council is taking a methodical approach. “We can’t fix everything at once,” Lawrence said. “We have a plan and will execute that plan over time … We told the voters how we would execute the bond and we want to stick to that plan.”
Both, though, have a similar vision for the village.
“My vision is intertwined with our citizens’ vision. Many people want to focus on our community and keep it unique and not give it too much of the wow factor and keep it quaint,” Sellers said.
Asked about his vision for Blowing Rock and how things have taken shape these past two decades, Lawrence replied, “Well if you look at it, I think I’ve done a good job, with the assistance of our council, in helping to keep our small town small. It’s still in the people’s eyes the utopia of small towns, and I want to keep it that way as long as I’m in office.”