LAURINBURG — Who is Thomas “Tommy” W. Parker, III?
For those who know him best, the answer is simple. They call the man seeking his consecutive second term as Laurinburg’s mayor “a straight shooter” out to serve the city the best way he knows how.
Other adjectives used to describe him include honest, sincere, down-to-earth, sensible and plain-spoken.
Other than sometimes wearing his loafers without socks, Parker leaves the oomph and pizzazz to others.
That no-nonsense side of Parker was on display at a recent candidate forum when he was asked what could be done to lower Laurinburg’s light bills.
The 67-year-old businessman said despite all the talk about utility rates, the real solution to high light bills is to use less electricity.
Sounding more like a dutiful dad than a savvy politician, Parker said his electric bill remains under $200 a month because he turns “switches off when I leave the house.”
“There is not some phantom rate that comes out of the sky and affects certain meters and not others,” Parker said. “The problem has to be with the person using the electricity. The biggest factor is not the rate, it is the usage and you control the usage.”
It is not yet clear whether Parker’s penchant for telling it like he sees it will win him a second four-year term.
Matthew Block, a Laurinburg cardiologist also trying to be the next mayor, has hit Parker and the rest of city council hard for a myriad of perceived shortcomings, including not lowering electric rate faster and by a bigger clip after Laurinburg and 31 other municipalities agreed to sell their power-plant assets to Duke Energy in August in return for lower wholesale electricity costs.
A public hearing is planned for Nov. 17 to consider lowering the city’s electric rate by 7 percent.
Block’s campaign has argued that the rate could be lowered by at least 10 percent and city officials are not doing more because they have secretly earmarked a portion of electric fund revenues to help build a new City Hall.
Parker bristles at the suggestion.
“I don’t do business behind closed doors,” he said. “You can see my cellphone records … if you want to I’ll take a drug test. You can see my tax returns under certain circumstances. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
Parker said he finds talk of a clandestine conspiracy to siphon off money for a new City Hall silly.
‘When you raise rates, you don’t put that money in the bank,” he said. “It is going to pay bills. I don’t like raising rates. I don’t like raising taxes. It is against my grain.
“We didn’t raise rates for our benefit. We raised rates because we had to. We have a responsibility to run this city the best way we can and that is to deliver dependable water, sewer and electricity to our citizens.”
Parker said Block is “now playing politics” with the issue after presiding over his own electric rate increase when he was mayor in 2008.
“Under Dr. Block, when he was mayor we went up 13 percent and in the same fiscal year we went up 3.9 percent,” Parker said. “That is almost a 17 percent increase.
“During my tenure, we have been up 3.5 percent and now we’re coming down 7 percent. You do the math.”
Parker said he is proud of his four years as mayor.
“You want to leave something better than when you found it,” he said. “I had not planned on running, but in four years you can only get so much done. There is some unfinished business — finding jobs being the number 1 priority; and trying to get the nonprofits together so that we can have better opportunities for our kids.”
Parker, who describes himself as a “hands-on mayor,” said his accomplishments include tearing down nearly 50 dilapidated buildings across the city; helping establish an economic initiative with community stakeholders; new entrance signs for Laurinburg; improved lighting off of highways intersecting the city; and more diversity in the police department.
“We are also working hard to add jobs to our community,” he said.”People may say that is only one job or five jobs, but every job counts in this community whether it is one or 51 or 151 jobs.”
Still Parker said the mayor, who cannot make motions or vote unless to break a tie, can only do so much.
“City council calls the play,” he said “I run the play they call. I can give them advise and sometimes they will accept it and sometimes they push on.”
Parker, a longtime council member before his election as mayor, has been involved in civic life in Scotland County for more than 40 years. A graduate of Laurinburg High School and N.C. State University, Parker owns and operates Parker Furniture in Laurinburg.
“I enjoy being mayor because I get to represent the town I believe in,” he said. “I try to be a good salesman, but it is easy because I believe in the product I’m selling.”
Reach editor Scott Witten at 910-506-3023