You wouldn’t know it just by looking but newly-elected Mebane city councilman Jonathan White – an engineer by trade – is as much at ease working in his yard along South Third Street in Mebane as he is working with global tech giants.
White began his term on Mebane’s city council December 6.
HOW DID HE DECIDE TO RUN?
“I was interested in broadening my exposure to people and needs and wanting to serve. As an engineer, I’m fascinated by how things work…It was just a confluence of factors.”
– Jonathan White, new Mebane city councilman
White is a director for Synopsis, a multinational corporation headquartered in Silicon Valley, which has offices in Research Triangle Park and across the globe and makes software used to design computer chips for companies such as Intel, NVIDIA, as well as automotive manufacturers. Though he is continuing to work remotely because of the pandemic, White manages some three dozen people based in North Carolina, California, and Taiwan.
Born in London, White grew up about an hour outside of New York City but came to North Carolina for graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Clemson University.
White, 52, started attending Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane in the early 1990s, when he was a graduate student in the computer engineering program at N.C. State University. “Alamance County seemed like a good place,” he recalled in a recent interview with The Alamance News. White and his wife, Stephanie, moved to Mebane – “recognizing that was really the place we wanted to be” – after he completed his master’s degree in engineering in 1993.
There wasn’t any one issue in particular that influenced his decision to run for Mebane’s city council, White tells the newspaper. But after learning that two incumbents, Jill Auditori and Everette Greene, wouldn’t be seeking reelection in the November 2021 council race, White thought his 20 years of management experience and leadership might be a good fit. “I was interested in broadening my exposure to people and needs and wanting to serve,” White explains. “As an engineer, I’m fascinated by how things work…It was just a confluence of factors.”
White’s wife, Stephanie White, is taking a breather after devoting the better part of a quarter-century to raising the couple’s four children. For a while, she also performed title searches and did paralegal work for attorney Charles Bateman, who also represented the city of Mebane prior to retiring several years ago.
With their four children now grown – their youngest, Olivia, 19, was in the Bradford Academy’s first graduating class and is now a sophomore at Carolina – the timing seemed right for the empty-nesters. “I said to my wife, ‘Let’s spend some time thinking about it and praying,’ and here we are,” White recalls.
“I hope to provide insights in terms of a strategic plan – where do we want to be and how do we get there? I want to be a good advocate for the people, be an example, and be a good reflection of what’s on the hearts of the people who live [here]. I think Mebane is a good place. I want to really take advantage of what’s before us.”– New Mebane city councilman Jonathan White
White currently serves on the board of directors at Bradford Academy, a private classical Christian school currently based at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane. He adds that he has been invited to serve on other boards, such as the board of deacons at church and the board for the College of Engineering at N.C. State.
White is quick to note that he thinks the city has been well-run, adding, “I hope to provide insights in terms of a strategic plan – where do we want to be and how do we get there? I want to be a good advocate for the people, be an example, and be a good reflection of what’s on the hearts of the people who live [here]. I think Mebane is a good place. I want to really take advantage of what’s before us.”
Charming as it is, Mebane has weaknesses, most of which are beyond the council’s authority to resolve on its own, White acknowledges. “I don’t see one area that’s urgent,” he tells the newspaper. “What I’m most passionate about is having balance. I would like to see small business success; commercial/industrial [balance in future growth]; and everything from starter homes to [forever] homes. Some people have expressed to me they are having trouble finding that in Mebane…starter homes in Mebane are $300,000 now – that’s mind-boggling.”
The new councilman concedes that infrastructure – i.e., roads and water/sewer capacity – is a pressing issue for the city in the near term.
White realizes “a lot of that plays into” the state Department of Transportation’s purview and funding priorities, but says there are other things the city can do, such as strengthening communication.
“A lot of people in Mebane do not feel informed,” says the new councilman. “The more informed they feel, the more they have a voice.”
In the meantime, White says he has contacted members of the two school boards – the Alamance-Burlington school board and Orange County school board – whose members represent Mebane’s K-12 students and families. “I want to ask questions and learn more and be an advocate for the challenges they’re facing,” he says. For the past five years, White has also mentored students at South Mebane Elementary School – which he characterizes as “just trying to be a blessing” – for students who need additional guidance.
Be ye merciful, as your Father also is
Now a member of the Summit Church in Mebane, White says his faith informs his approach to governing – and life, in general. “As a Christian, I have received undeserved mercy and grace, and I want to reflect that in all I do. When it comes to city matters, I want to [show] love, peace, joy, self-control – and to show grace and mercy to everyone I meet. I will be sensitive to the concerns of everyone I meet. Even if I don’t agree with them, I want to take them seriously, to do the right thing but also do it the right way. If you do something the right way, you build trust. I want to help make the best decisions but also implement them the right way.”
Another key to building trust, White says, is not only communicating but how you do it – namely, in a way that helps people to understand how decisions affect them.
“There are barriers that make getting involved [in local government] intimidating,” White elaborates. “There is a lot of terminology” and other aspects of municipal government he says he didn’t understand when he started attending council meetings last year via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
White says he wants to “make local government as accessible as possible” for the citizens of Mebane. “I think the city is stronger when more people are involved,” he says.
“One of the things I’m very committed to, as a manager, is leading through building up people,” White elaborates. “The best way to lead a team is to make the team members successful.” One way to accomplish that is by getting to know people and understanding their concerns, he says.
Though learning intricacies of his new role as a city councilman consumes most of his free time these days, White says he enjoys spending his downtime with his family and landscaping. “The last few years, he adds, “I have tried to pick up golf; it was great for Covid – it got me out of the house and allowed me to be socially-distanced.”
White and his wife of 28 years, Stephanie White, live at 803 South Third Street in Mebane.