Parsons brings neighborhood concerns to new post on city council
Joey Parsons is a car guy – but so much more.
The 52-year-old Burlington native grew up working on cars, eventually owning an auto body shop in Graham, Car Art, Inc., for 14 years before he sold it to follow a different career path several years ago. Though he’s never fully left his lifelong love in the rearview mirror, Parsons, one of two new Graham city councilmen elected in November, currently works as a claims rep for National General Insurance.
Parsons had known his future wife, Angela Parsons, since high school – he took her to her junior prom at Graham High School in 1987 – it was ultimately a white 1981 Corvette that brought the couple together several years following his graduation from Western High School.
Parsons recalled admiring the Corvette – which Angela’s father had owned at the time – from afar and telling her that if he ever wanted to sell it, to call him. One day, in the early 1990s, she called out of the blue. “I got rid of the car but kept the wife,” Parsons says of his wife, who works for the Alamance-Burlington school system as a school counselor at E.M. Holt Elementary School.
As he looks forward to celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary on April 15 of this year, Parsons says the key to a successful marriage is simple. “Just love each other; put God first; and treat each with respect,” he explains. “So many people get bent out of shape [about] the little things – the little things are irrelevant. So what if they squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle?”
Jack of all trades
During the interim between selling his auto body shop and getting into the insurance business, Parsons also worked as a technical representative for the paint supply company that had been one of his vendors for Car Art, Inc. “I passed the licensing exam on my first try,” he says. As a field rep for National General Insurance, Parsons covers a three-county area – Alamance, Chatham, and Orange – that keeps him on the road between eight and 10 hours a week.
Parsons developed a mechanical aptitude early in life. He took drafting all four years at Southern High School; studied electromechanical engineering at Alamance Community College; and eventually got some experience in the tool and die trade while working at GKN Driveline in Mebane. He says he was working for GKN and was still single when he decided to buy a home in Graham in the early 1990s.
After GKN, Parsons went to work for Smith Architectural Metals in Greensboro, where he learned computer-aided design and drafting, or AutoCAD for short, and designed plans for just about everything except structural steel, Parsons recalls.
Parsons later did metal design projects for North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro; N.C. State University in Raleigh; and Fort Bragg in Fayetteville. He also designed the signs – in shapes that replicate train trestles – at the front of the old engine house at the Amtrak station at Company Shops in Burlington. “It was cool to see what you drew – just lines on paper – when it’s functional and done,” Parsons says.
One of the “weirdest projects” that Parsons says he ever worked on was the former American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, which featured a main building that “was supposed to replicate the Star of David,” he says. Even now, years later, Parsons vividly recalls the two-story dormitories on the school campus, which had 2’ to 3’-foot wide staircases between floors, which he emphasizes “were not safe.”
“I live in the middle of the residential explosion on that side of town. Just talking to neighbors, I had a lot of support from people in my neighborhood; some of the decisions made by [previous city council members] did sit well with the neighbors.” – Graham city councilman Joey Parsons
A Jewish boarding school, the American Hebrew Academy opened in 2001 but closed in 2019 due to ongoing financial problems, according to news stories that ran at the time.
‘I’m not political’
While he was a volunteer for a car show that the Graham Area Business Association (GABA) used to hold every year in downtown Graham, Parsons had few political aspirations before he entered the city council race last year.
The “explosive growth” in and around Rogers Road, in south Graham, over the last few years changed his mind.
“I live in the middle of the residential explosion on that side of town,” Parsons elaborates. “Just talking to neighbors, I had a lot of support from people in my neighborhood; some of the decisions made by [previous city council members] did sit well with the neighbors.” He and his wife, Angela, live at 506 Wildwood Lane in Graham, which Parson describes as the “new part of Broad Acres” and just past the South Graham park.
For an example, Parsons points to 150 single-family homes that developer Martin Shoffner had proposed building on the south side of Graham. The newly-elected councilman says that proposal “got shot down,” but then the council approved a larger plan for more homes on the same site within a matter of months. “When things like that happen, you realize something is not working,” says Parsons.
His everyman demeanor might’ve had a lot to do with why the first-time candidate won. “I don’t have an agenda; I’m not political,” Parsons tells the newspaper. “In the past, [as] a resident in Graham, I felt like my voice wasn’t always heard. I want to give the people a voice, to feel like they’ve been heard and not dictated to what we’re going to do…I truly look at it as a service.”
Council should be deliberate about future growth in Graham
Assessing traffic and roads in Graham, as well as whether the city has adequate infrastructure to handle future growth, rank high on Parson’s list of priorities as he begins his term on the council. That should include examining the impact that proposals for residential development will have on the capacity at schools in Graham, he says.
Parsons says he’s eager for more commercial development in Graham, adding that he personally would like to see “a good grocery store” open in Graham. He also sees a need for “sustainable retail” that would carry “every day” products most people need.
At the same time, the city needs adequate resources and staff to handle the increased demand for services, such as trash pickup/recycling and emergency services that accompany growth, while tax rates need to remain affordable, Parsons explains. The Graham police and fire departments are already understaffed, as is the sanitation department, whose workers Parsons characterizes as the city’s “unsung heroes.”
“We need to weigh the tax revenue versus the city’s costs for additional services,” Parsons explains. “I know there’s some benefit – if it’s Piedmont Natural Gas, you’re going to get franchise fees back – but is it going to offset the [city’s expenses]?”
The new city councilman says he’s wary of the impact that high-density residential developments – which previous council members have voted to approve – could have on Graham in the long term.
“The 2035 comprehensive plan has loopholes that need to be addressed – developers are coming in and over-developing land [by creating] more density than the property will allow,” Parsons explains. “We’ve got to be responsible because the things we do now are going to impact the future.”
One illustration of differing views about growth in Graham was a proposed subdivision that Graham’s city council voted 3-2 to approve in September 2020. Dubbed Riley’s Meadow, preliminary plans for the subdivision called for 393 single-family homes and townhouses to be built on 77 acres across from the city’s regional park on Jim Minor Road. The prevailing votes were cast by then-mayor Jerry Peterman, who didn’t seek reelection last year; councilman Chip Turner who lost the mayor’s race in November to his fellow council member, Jennifer Talley; and Melody Wiggins, who lost her seat on the council in the November 2021 elections. Talley and her fellow councilman Ricky Hall voted against the proposal for Riley’s Meadow.
In their spare time, Parsons and his wife are active in their church, Lamb’s Chapel in Burlington, where he serves as a deacon and leads a security team for Sunday morning church services. Parsons estimates that on average, more than 3,000 people attend Sunday morning services at Lamb’s Chapel, though he says that’s actually a decline from the pre-Covid average attendance of 5,500 people on Sunday mornings.
“We’re in the Top 1 percent” of mega-churches in the U.S., Parsons tells the newspaper. “We have to be mindful,” he says of his role in providing security during Sunday morning services. “We had a couple times when people came in and things just weren’t right.”
The couple has a son, 20, who’s a Southern High School graduate, and a 14-year-old daughter, who currently attends Southern High School.
Parson’s hobbies include studying history and architecture; he says he drew the designs for his home in Graham and for his family’s beach house at Harkers Island in Carteret County. In addition to spending time with his wife and two children, he also enjoys driving his Toyota Land Cruiser on off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails in the Uwharrie National Forest in Troy – and, of course, working on old cars.