Buice column: Service to country and village: Combest was a hard-working councilman

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2019

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As a retired brigadier general who retired from the U.S. Army, Mike Combest knows a thing or two about being put to the test.

And after years of commendable service to his country, Combest ended up moving to Clemmons and decided to serve in a different way — as a member of the Clemmons Village Council.

Using the same work ethic and preparation that landed him numerous accolades as a military man, Combest took on securing a spot on the council in 2015 in his next mission and certainly impressed, becoming the top vote-getter in the election and starting a new chapter in his journey.

His four-year term is coming to a close as he will be sitting up front one last time next Monday night. Combest chose not to run again, sticking with his vow to serve four years and step aside with the goal of providing good service to the community and encouraging other residents to do the same.

As he was recognized in the last meeting for his many contributions, I couldn’t help but reflect on Combest’s time as a member of the council and his part in one of the most amazing acts of our government at work I’ve ever seen in May when he drove to Raleigh twice — once in the wee hours of the morning — to help stop an 11th hour drop of House Bill 392 by a local developer to de-annex property located in Clemmons.

Despite being stopped by the Village of Clemmons on his plans for 38 acres on the western side of Lewisville-Clemmons Road near River Center Drive, Stan Forester took steps to continue with his development — which has 94 percent of the property in Forsyth County — by making a de-annexation request of the 2.5 acres in Clemmons to the N.C. Legislature with the intent to develop the land through the county’s zoning auspices.

The council expressed concerns on how the property might be developed and wanted Forester to consider having the entire tract annexed into Clemmons, and its standards, but Forester admitted to not wanting to work with the village.

Upon learning that House Bill 392 was on the calendar before the House Finance Committee on May 15 in Raleigh, councilwoman Michelle Barson asked to have someone there to represent the village at that meeting, and Combest agreed to attend. After getting down there the day before and doing his due diligence, Combest was allowed to speak the next morning and that ultimately led to the bill being pulled for consideration.

But Clemmons didn’t want to take any chances on it being added again, and the council and staff created a network of contacts to keep tabs. So it wasn’t totally unexpected when Village Manager Scott Buffkin received an email after the council meeting on the night of May 28 from a lobbyist for the N.C. League of Municipalities, informing him the de-annexation item was on the agenda the next morning.

That came about 9:30 p.m., and Buffkin immediately called Combest, telling him of the House Finance Committee meeting scheduled less than 12 hours later at 8:30 a.m.

Combest went into reaction mode, putting together a three-minute address rebuttal, a slide packet for several Representatives and a plan to connect with the NCLM and any and all others who might be able to help with the cause for Clemmons.

Combest asked Buffkin to meet him a little after 4 a.m. at town hall to get some things printed out before hitting the road for a 6:30 a.m. arrival in Raleigh to allow for any meetings and conversations before the 8:30 a.m. start.

“It was debated for about 20 minutes, and I was allowed three minutes during the public comment period,” Combest said at the time. “They took a vote, and it failed to pass. It was 12-12. I don’t think anyone expected Clemmons to respond like we did. But the Clemmons Council and staff collectively defeated this de-annexation effort. We killed House Bill 392.”

This is just one example of the exemplary work done by Mike Combest during his four years on the council.

When I think of Combest, some of the words that come to mind include dedicated, hard-working, thoughtful, detail-oriented, perseverance, research, straight shooter, and, on the lighter side, jokester.

I like what Barson said in her remarks in the council’s recognition of Combest: “His 50-plus page PowerPoints won’t be missed, but his ability to seek out the right reason will be.”

• • • • •

Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit more than going to the annual “A Carolina Christmas” production featuring the Winston-Salem Symphony and the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorus.

It’s always held the weekend after Thanksgiving in the historic and beautiful Reynolds Auditorium, and this year’s performance included the debut of new director Tim Redmond and a different twist.

Along with a wonderful variety of the traditional sounds of the season, a quartet of Appalachian harmonies added to a wonderful evening with singer/songwriter Laurelyn Dossett’s “The Gathering: A Winter’s Tale in Six Songs” rounding out the set before intermission.

Dossett, who lives in Stokes County, was on stage with other talented guest artists — Mike Compton, Joe Newberry and April Verch.

And, of course, there was the annual visit from Santa and a holiday sing-along to cap the festivities.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than three weeks away.