Progress: Council member Michelle Barson twice leads vote as political newcomer in Clemmons
Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2023
As a young mom with toddler twins and still being fairly new to Clemmons, Michelle Barson perhaps didn’t fit the profile of a candidate for the Village Council in 2017.
But as a political newcomer who has always served on boards and volunteered for different organizations, Barson decided to run because she thought she could do better than those in the seats before her.
“I felt like I had the time, energy, and ability to keep Clemmons the great community it is,” she said. “To maintain being the desirable community we have been for the past several decades takes a lot of work and the willingness to make big changes based on the ever-evolving needs and expectations of the residents.”
Barson ended up being the top vote-getter in her first attempt at public office, thereby being appointed mayor pro tem and receiving a four-year term, and then followed that up with a repeat performance in 2021 by leading the vote and landing the mayor pro tem role again that went with it.
“I’m proud of having led the way on a few big successes of our village council over the past five years,” she said, with the first being the Street Modification Guide, which aims to give residents a clear path toward requesting changes, and later addressing the growing stormwater issue.
“Our community grew quickly and densely and that has led to lakes being filled in, personal property damage and safety issues,” Barson said. “While we can’t undo the past, we can learn from it. We now have the strictest stormwater ordinances in the state.”
In the last year, she has been focused on projects such as improving school traffic and playing a key role in the Drone as a First Responder Program pilot program coming to Clemmons through the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office becoming a reality.
Barson was part of the “Stop the Median” movement, regarding the Lewisville-Clemmons Road project, when she was first elected in 2017 along with a new mayor and two other council newcomers.
“I’m still anti-median,” Barson said. “It’s a simplistic, cheap fix for traffic flow. The plans we saw last year (which have since been approved) included some additional medians but with multiple creative traffic maneuvering devices as well. It included sidewalks, adding turn lanes and widening our roads, which are currently too narrow and out of compliance. It had a more holistic approach.
“What needs to continue to happen is a positive, working relationship between our staff and the DOT staff, as well as dialogue between our residents and business community with our council. When we voted to accept the funds in 2018, it was the right decision, and when we turned down their previous plans it forced them to go back to the drawing board. I believe everyone agrees that we need a solution for safety, access to businesses, and flow in Clemmons, specifically on Lewisville-Clemmons Road, and that taking our time to find the right solution is what will produce the best, most lasting outcome.”
Coming to Clemmons certainly wasn’t on the radar for Barson, a native of Ohio who lived there until she was 24 before moving to Albany, N.Y., for her husband David’s job in 2007. They had planned to stay there for three years with his new work experience before moving back.
“That didn’t happen, but many other things did,” she said. “While I loved the people I met in New York, I did not love the winters. My husband was already working for a company based in North Carolina, so we decided to make the move here — specifically because it felt like a ‘now or never’ situation because I was pregnant with twins. We heard Clemmons was a great family place, and we rented an apartment at Hawk’s Ridge before finding our first Clemmons house in Asbury Place.”
Of course, she stays busy juggling her time between being a wife, a mom with the two active now 8-year-old boys, Beckett and Fielding, in addition to working and being on boards and volunteering for different organizations — including serving at their school, Morgan Elementary, as their sponsor’s chair connecting local businesses and professionals with the school community.
“I started working full time a little over a year ago, and that’s added another layer of difficulty, but I’m so happy I was only part time when I took this role on,” Barson said. “It gave me the flexibility and time needed to really learn the ins and outs of my role and of the inner workings of the village.”
“Up until recently, I was on several boards, including Kaleideum Children’s Museum, Jerry Long Family YMCA and three school board committees. I’ve had to drop all of them over the past 12 months. While there was a lot of value to Clemmons by my serving on them, I was getting burned out, and if I’m burned out then I can’t give anything of quality to these boards, to Clemmons or my family.”
Barson said she and her husband and kids enjoy going on hikes, kayaking, fishing, playing or watching sports, watching movies and visiting the mountain or beach.
“My children are finally at an age where we are able, as a family, to do fun, new activities together,” she said. “My favorite hobby is walking, around my neighborhood, their neighborhood, at Tanglewood or around Village Point. I really swing my arms and am hard to miss. It’s my ‘me’ time and allows me to reset.”
Barson looks forward to what’s ahead in her role on the council, admitting the overall experience “has been absolutely exhausting but also a huge honor. It is such a big responsibility, and there is so much to learn when first elected that it can be overwhelming. I feel going into my sixth year that I’m familiar with our UDO’s (Unified Development Ordinances), have a strong working knowledge of all the village does or does not do as a municipal body, and know how to make change.
“I still feel like I have things I want to accomplish in Clemmons. For instance, I’m passionate about making sure we are the type of community that continues to attract new residents. This includes making sure our infrastructure is modern and efficient. That it allows residents to get from one place to another quickly and safely by whatever mode they prefer — walking, biking or driving.
“Perhaps, what I’m most passionate about right now is ensuring that we maintain that ‘small- town’ feel. By that, I mean be the type of community where people know and care for one another, as well as have organic opportunities to meet new people and run into old friends. We’ve grown our events and communications over the past few years with this vision in mind, and I believe we have some opportunities soon to further enhance our shared sense of community.”