MONROE — After dedicating 54 years of his life to the City of Monroe — first as a police chief, then as a council member for eight years and finally, mayor for 16 years — Bobby Kilgore has announced he will not run for another term as Mayor of Monroe
Kilgore said he felt it was time to step aside.
“I’ve been around this city 54 years. That pretty much tells a story,” Kilgore said laughing. “I guess the bottom line is, I’ve been the mayor for 16 years and it’s really time for me to step down and semi-retire.”
“I’ve tried to be a people person all my time with the city and all my time in my life,” Kilgore said. To him, that means following through on promises and always returning phone calls.
He plans to continue to be active, but did not specify.
Kilgore sees any achievements made as the combined efforts between he, city council and staff, but Pete Hovanec, City of Monroe’s communication and tourism officer, pointed out a success that Kilgore could call his own =- shepherding the diverse personalities of council members by listening to them and forming middle-ground responses and/or solutions.
“Everybody is important. Everybody’s got a story and you need to listen to it,” Kilgore said. “It may not be a big story, but to that person, it’s a big story … I know that it is important that you listen to people. People want to be heard and people should have the opportunity to be heard.”
Projects that have either been completed or may begin during Kilgore’s career as a leader in Monroe include: building the Monroe Aquatics Center, bringing in a natural gas pipeline, re-opening The Dowd Center Theatre, the Monroe Science Center, converting the former Enquirer-Journal building into a senior center, the revitalization of downtown and building a new police station.
In talking about those projects, Kilgore said he is “certainly proud” of them; however, “that ain’t something I did by myself. That’s not an accomplishment that Bob has done. That’s an accomplishment we have done as a council and as city personnel. It’s not something I’ve done, but something I am proud of.”
Conversely, when asked about the challenges he overcame as mayor, he quickly said the COVID-19 pandemic. He commended city staff in how they handled the pandemic.
“Our city staff did it so well. It’s like they had done one before — thank God they hadn’t. With the city staff taking it from day to day and week to week I think we did well,” Kilgore said. “I give the city staff an A+ on handling COVID. There’s no question about it.”
Another challenge was Tropical Storm Florence in 2018, when parts of the city were under water.
Kilgore has an optimistic view of Monroe’s future. He would like to see it continue to grow especially in the way of industry in order to balance out commercial development and residential. Right now, it’s lopsided with residential outnumbering commercial.
“Monroe is on the move,” he said, “I think Monroe is in really good shape.”
One misconception Kilgore wants to clear up is that the city has not always been insistent on residential development. In fact, he said the city is “catching up” with other Union County municipalities that experienced a residential boom following the construction of I-485 and a wave of people from other states moving to the area. He said the city is adding developments much like the other municipalities have already done. He would like to see a mix of affordable and luxury homes.
Hovanec said the city has approved about 4,000 new homes to be built in the future.
Monroe can continue to build commercial and residential developments, because it operates its own water and sewer and does not depend on the county for that service.
After discussing the city’s future, Kilgore began talking about its past. He talked about going to the movies. Back then, teens could choose between three theaters or seeing movies at all three for a total of 27 cents; he recalled paying a nickel for popcorn.
For natives like Kilgore, who may be resistant to the progress Monroe has made and yearn for simpler days in the city, Kilgore said, “if you don’t grow, you die on the vine.”
Kilgore said cities need continued, responsible growth in order to support major projects. “We’ve got to grow and to grow, we are going to bring in new people, businesses and new industry and it’s good for everyone,” he said.
To the person taking on the role of Mayor of Monroe, his advice to them mirrors his legacy.
His parting words for the next Mayor of Monroe are “listen to what the people tell you and respond in the best manner you can … When you listen to people, you can’t always respond with what they want, but you can respond to them in a way that you can help them or they can understand why you can’t … The people are first and you need to cater to the people, first.”