Paul Thompson’s priorities for Gibsonville haven’t wavered since he first came before the town’s board of aldermen years ago to advocate for the town’s police and fire departments. But the incoming alderman’s penchant for public service long predates his attendance at meetings, stretching back to his childhood.
Having been drawn to fire trucks and emergency television shows since his elementary school days, Thompson’s interest led him to serve in most every public safety position available – police officer, firefighter, EMT, even dispatcher. All the while, Thompson, 58, has also worked in the printing business, starting his career at his family’s company in 1984 before becoming the business manager of International Minute Press.
“Public safety is my number one goal. I don’t want somebody to call the police and somebody not be right there.” – New Gibsonville alderman Paul Thompson
Even after stepping back from the public safety field, the Alamance County native has followed along with his former colleagues through his two police scanners, a habit that clued him into what he considers scarce staffing in some of the area departments.
“Public safety is my number one goal,” he told The Alamance News. “I don’t want somebody to call the police and somebody not be right there.”
He likewise began to ruminate on the seemingly age-old question of why small municipalities seem to lack the funds for infrastructure improvements – or, in Gibsonville specifically, revitalizing downtown.
“Me being a businessman; and handling multi-million dollar budgets; and being successful, making money, and having a profit, I always wondered why the towns or small towns seemed to struggle so much,” he said. “Why do they not have money? Is it wasteful spending? Is it too low of a tax rate?
Equipped with a passion for extensive studying – much of the incoming alderman’s favorite subjects are non-fiction and history – and observing happenings in the community, Thompson conducted his own deep-dive into the town’s budgeting process.
“I started investigating all this stuff about six years ago,” he added. “I started going to board meetings. I started studying the budget, because I’m a budget person. I’m an accounting person. I’m a numbers person.”
His increasing interest in the decisions of the town’s governing board also coincided with the realization that while his passion for public service hadn’t waned, it was taking him in a different, albeit less physically-taxing direction.
“I’ve just gotten too old [to serve in public safety],” he conceded. “I’m 58, so I’m just like, ‘I’m too old for that now, so what can I do now?’ I wanted to do something to serve the community, and that’s why I started running for the board.”
After two campaign losses, he clinched a place on the board this fall in what became one of the area’s tightest races. Still, despite his victory, Thompson points to what he’s characterized as apathy in the town as it relates to local government. While 1,186 votes were cast during November’s election, that number still only represents a little over 13 percent of the town’s census-determined population of 8,920 in April 2020, though about 30 percent of the population is estimated to be under 18.
“You have maybe five to ten percent of the town making all the decisions, because those were the only people who participated,” he lamented. “People don’t attend [town hall meetings]. People don’t care until something affects them. …I want people to participate more in government. I want to represent them. I want to get them to have a genuine interest in our community and communicate more.”
‘We’ve got to promote ourselves’
As is the case with his soon-to-be fellow board members, Thompson wants to attract more commercial and industrial development to the town, but acknowledges that residential developers appear more adept at obtaining properties in the area.
“We need to work on connecting landowners, developers, and potential businesses,” he explained.
Still, he said, there’s hope that the extension of water and sewer lines to the Highways 61 and 70 area, a venture that the town’s current governing board has worked toward for years, will bring more commercial and retail to that area. Another extension of utilities to the North Highway 61 area, he hopes, will also prove attractive for those developers.
Thompson also aspires to address the town’s infrastructure and downtown district, telling the newspaper that some of his focus includes a new police headquarters and library facility within the next five years; increasing department staff as new residents arrive; maintaining a small-town atmosphere while adding downtown parking, lighting, Wi-Fi, and crosswalks; and recruiting businesses that cater to a younger demographic.
“We’ve got to promote ourselves, because it’s a neat place to go,” he said. “But you’ve got to get people to want to go.”