Neighborhood advocacy the cornerstone of merschel’’s political agenda

by Keith Barber

Neighborhood advocacy the cornerstone of merschel’s political agenda

Winston-Salem City Councilwoman Wanda Merschel believes that healthy neighborhoods are the key to a city’s quality of life and future sustained growth. While serving as president of the West End Neighborhood Association, Merschel played a pivotal role in getting city leaders to select the area as Winston- Salem’s first historic overlay district. The West End Historic Overlay District was created in 1993 to protect, conserve and rehabilitate important historic structures in the turn-of-the-century suburb. Merschel said the experience of successfully petitioning the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen served as a valuable lesson in local politics.

“It taught me a lot,” Merschel said. “It showed me that citizens do have the ability to have an impact.”

In 1997, Merschel successfully ran for the Northwest Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council. She has served continuously for the past 12 years and is currently seeking her fourth term on the council.

Merschel said her experience working on the West End Neighborhood Association — the oldest 501(c)3 neighborhood association in the nation — inspired her run for elected office.

“Decisions are made by the people who show up,” Merschel said. In June, hundreds of Winston-Salem residents showed up at City Hall to voice both their support and opposition to a proposal from Winston-Salem Dash owner Billy Prim that the city invest an additional $15.7 million in the construction of the downtown ballpark.

Merschel, the chair of the city’s finance committee, said it would’ve been impossible for the council to foresee what happened in the financial markets when it approved the investment of $12 million in Phase I of the project in 2007.

Merschel said she was pleased to see the revisions to the original financial agreement, but admits she’s been frustrated by the lack of progress on the stadium’s construction.

“As a private citizen, I’ve been very upset and very angry as we’ve gone through this process,” Merschel said. “Some days I am so angry, but as a council member, I can’t be angry. I have to work methodically through the situation we have now. I have to support the long-term needs of the community, and I have to balance the needs of the community with the city’s investment.”

Merschel said it is critical that Prim and the various financial institutions involved in the $15 million consortium loan close on the deal by the city’s Sept. 21 deadline.

“Am I feeling good about it? No,” said Merschel. “Am I feeling that [city] staff is working to make the community’s position as secure as possible given the variety of scenarios? Yes.”

Merschel said with every major financial decision, the city’s triple-A bond rating is at stake and that is a major point of pride for her. Merschel, a senior vice president of Piedmont Federal Savings Bank, believes she has much to contribute to the city’s future prosperity. The city has worked hard to maintain one of the lowest municipal tax rates in the state, which makes Winston-Salem attractive to companies looking to relocate or expand their operations.

Protecting historic neighborhoods, revitalizing the downtown area and infrastructure improvements are just a few examples of how the council can positively affect the city’s quality of life, Merschel said. And maintaining a high quality of life is what retains and attracts jobs and industry. Merschel said she hopes to build a legacy of creating and maintaining a good bond rating, keeping property taxes low, maintaining a high level of city services, improving quality of life and retaining and recruiting industry.

“It all rests on healthy neighborhoods,” she said.