August was a busy month in Mansfield.
A new mayor was elected, sort of. It has a new councilman. It won’t need an election. Its new city hall was dedicated. Sidewalks are being built all over the place. Most of the town has free WiFi.
And it will soon have a downtown square.
“We’re working on so much,” Mayor Jefferson Riley said Thursday, with just a touch of understatement.
Riley, who has been the town’s acting mayor since its former mayor resigned, was unopposed in the qualifying session for the seat held Aug. 21-22. That means the seat is his, and no special election will be needed as expected in September. Chris Fulmer, who also was an only qualifier for the council, will take Riley’s Post 3 seat on the town council.
No election needed, $6,000 saved.
Riley’s term will expire next year, however, when the former mayor’s term would have expired anyway. The next election will be in November 2015.
Mayor Estona Middlebrooks resigned under a cloud of controversy in March. Riley took the position Jan. 1. The week after, the council voted him mayor pro-tem. In March, after Middlebrooks stepped down, Riley was appointed to mayor.
He didn’t want to talk about all that Thursday: “Where I put my attention (is) on the present and future, not the past.”
Fair enough, because it’s quite a future.
Recently, crews finished installing new sidewalks in front of Blackwell’s Grocery downtown. Next week, Riley said, they’ll move across the street to finish the sidewalks in front of the old city hall building and the post office. Work began on a small part of that section last week.
Next, the city will work on everything in between. Earlier this year, a railroad company came through town, ripped up the old rails, and apparently just tossed everything aside. It’s not pretty, having a downtown split by gravel from the old rail bed and heaps of rotting ties and rusting rails.
The city will “completely redo that and begin to call that our town square,” Riley said. “We’re going to do that and build a beautiful downtown square out of it. We would like to add a rectangular gazebo there and erect a very nice green space for our community to come together.”
The railroad’s destruction project “was like a storm came through,” he said. “Give it about a month and come back by and you’ll have a different opinion.”
Sidewalks will also be built around the square’s perimeter to “truly form a square, or, you know, I don’t really want to call it a rectangle. We’re hoping that will create a really nice area.”
Riley said town officials are also looking for spot near downtown to create a children’s park, complete with a nice playground. There’s a recent influx of young families, so there’s a need, he said.
The city’s changes don’t stop there. A feed and seed store has announced it’s moving to town, and a used-car lot with “newer-model used cars” is coming, too, Riley said. Two other businesses are “in the pipeline,” but yet ready to announce.
The city’s used an old bank building as City Hall for some time now, but the building needs remodeling. That began Friday. The building was dedicated earlier this month to a former mayor and his wife, a former councilwoman. Its official name is now the William and Lyra Cocchi Buidling.
William was mayor for 19 years. Lyra was on the council for 16. William died a couple months ago.
“I’m very excited about the future,” Riley said. “There is somewhat of a clean slate to work with out there. There’s not been a whole lot of improvements out there for the past few years, but we do have some funding to do things with.”
Like city-wide WiFi. For the past couple months, Riley and a city worker have installed the small Wifi receivers on about a third of the town’s power poles. They began work on the second third Friday. Eventually, Riley plans to finish it city-wide. His part of town, he added, will be the last to receive the free service.
“That seems like a relatively small thing to do, and relatively inexpensive, but it’s been a big hit for the citizens of Mansfield,” he said.
City Administrator Marcia Allen agreed: “The citizens just love it.”
Riley said he’s confident of the future because the Mansfield City Council gets along so well.
“To me, it’s just been a real pleasure to work with those folks,” he said. “I can’t say I’ve ever worked with a better team. And they’re all excited about what we’re doing. I’ve had (residents) flag me down and compliment me on the sidewalks.”
The overall idea, he said, is to move Mansfield into the future “without destroying the historic value of the city.”