A Man of Many Roles
Southern Pines Mayor David McNeill digresses about his passion for the community and the outlook ahead
By RENEE CRANDALL
On an average, partly cloudy, 10% chance of rain type of day, Mayor David McNeill can be found swinging his golf clubs on one of Pinehurst’s picturesque golf courses. Or perhaps he could be found eating with his wife at one of Southern Pines’ well-known restaurants—maybe Chapman’s, Southern Prime, or Betsy’s Crepes. Or perhaps he’s traveling with his wife, up north to the New England states or maybe even out west to Montana. This is all, of course, when he’s not speaking at city council meetings, answering emails and phone calls from citizens, or attending other meetings. Some people know him as David. Two know him as dad. Two others know him as grandpa. However, most of Southern Pines know him as Mayor McNeill.
I had the privilege of meeting with Mayor McNeill on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in December. This kind, soft spoken man told me of his background, his mayoral duties, and of what he believes will be the promising future of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Take a look.
The Journey to Mayor
Born in Lumberton, North Carolina, McNeill spent his first ten years in Philadelphus (not to be confused with Philadelphia!) which lies in between Red Springs and Pembroke, North Carolina. He spent his formative years in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Master’s degree in Administrative Services, both from East Carolina University. This was only the beginning.
McNeill started his career in local government as a county planner in Eastern North Carolina. He then transitioned to a county administrator position in Brevard, North Carolina in 1983. That position led him to Moore county in 1987, where he served as a county manager until 2002. He then traveled north for a bit to Guilford county, where he was the deputy county manager for four years and the county manager for two. He retired, sold his townhouse, and decided it was time to head back home to the place that made his eyes twinkle when he mentioned it, Moore county. “I had no idea I would end up in an elective role,” he says. “I was approached about running—my kids were up here, and I thought it might be a good way to give back to a community that had been so good to me.” Elective role, indeed. McNeil ran for office and was elected to the town council in 2009 and served for two years. He ran for mayor of Southern Pines and was elected in 2011. He is finishing up his second term this year.
A Day in the Life
“A mayor is not a full-time role,” McNeill explains. When I asked him about his average day, he chuckled and said that no two days are alike. He schedules his mayoral duties for the afternoons, so he can free up his mornings with doing things he enjoys like playing golf or hanging out with his family.
As mayor, he is the chair of the town council, so he attends council meetings regularly. He spoke highly of the council: ‘We have a very involved council—well informed and attuned to the activities of the town. They work well together. They are an outstanding staff that perform the day to day operations. They are very responsive to citizens.”
McNeil was not kidding about giving back to his community. To date, his community service involves:
• Brownson Presbyterian Church
• Moore County Partners in Progress
• North Carolina League of Municipalities
• North Carolina State Capitol Foundation
• Southern Pines Rotary Club
• Tax and Finance Committee
“It’s interesting,” he says about his position, “Regular meetings, people calling and emailing. It’s been enjoyable.”
A Promising Year in 2019
“It’s going to be a promising year,” McNeill says with a smile. A new elementary school, McDeeds Creek, will be opening in 2019. It’s due time since the last school that was built in Moore county was in 1961. According to Moore County Schools website, “McDeeds Creek Elementary School will alleviate overcrowding at Sandhills Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview elementary schools. The 117,693 sq. ft. facility will have a capacity for 800 students from kindergarten through the 5th grade. The school is designed to provide opportunities for self-guided learning and team-teaching strategies. Windows in the classroom wings allow abundant natural light in each room. This ‘daylight’ design will save energy and has been proven to promote student success and reduce absenteeism.” The official groundbreaking will be March 15, 2019, and this school will be open to students in August 2019.
In addition to McDeeds Creek, there will be another elementary school in Aberdeen that will be under construction in 2019 and will open around 2020. This elementary school will replace the current Aberdeen Primary School and Aberdeen Elementary School buildings.
Along with the excitement of new schools, we will see redevelopment and improvements taking place along Highway 1 and 15-501. Hate turning left when you come out of Chick-fil-a, armed with your nuggets and fries? (I do.) This issue has thankfully been addressed.
On the south end near the former Bill Smith Ford, there will be some redevelopment as well. Prospects are looking at potential sites on Morgantown Road.
A new fire station on Highway 22 is opening in Spring 2019. This station will serve Sandhills Community College and the surrounding area. With all the developments that are coming, McNeill is excited about the direction that Southern Pines is heading.
“I’m continuously amazed at how this area draws from our surrounding counties,” McNeill says. Indeed, we draw others with our medical facilities, our school system, our community college, our golf courses, and even our restaurants. Others will drive an hour or more to enjoy a delicious dinner at Beefeaters or to play a few rounds of golf. We truly have so much going for us.
Add the breathtaking golf courses, the historical gems, the quaint charm of downtown Southern Pines, and more ways to play outside than can be listed, and it’s easy to see why this city draws others in.
And then there’s our community college. “Our community college is outstanding,” McNeill says, “It’s one of the flagship community colleges in the state.” Students come from surrounding counties and other states in order to attend Sandhills Community College.
McNeill stresses the importance of working together as a community, and he believes that we are doing a good job. “We have grown together. It’s so imperative that our communities work together and plan for the next fifty years,” he says.
“All the municipalities have a distinct character. Essentially, they work together as one urban area that is comprised of around 50,000 people,” McNeill says.
It’s no secret that you can find yourself in where you think is Southern Pines, but actually you’re in Aberdeen or Pinehurst. The boundaries of where one town ends and the other begins can be confusing. You can say to yourself, I’m going to the college, to the hospital, to the Aberdeen Bake House and not even think about where you are. “That’s why it’s good for all of us not to compete, but to complement,” McNeill says, “We are one large area working together.”