By Perla B. Crosby
Photo by Nikki Namdar
Former District 1 Commissioner, Art Woodruff, was appointed to serve as mayor following the resignation of Jeff Triplett. Mayor Woodruff was born and raised in Sanford as a sixth generation Sanfordite. Let’s get to know our new mayor and what he’s all about.
“I want Sanford to be a place that everyone can enjoy growing up, raising a family, and making a living just like my family and I have. I can tell a lot of stories about what that was like, but we need to make Sanford work for who lives here now.”
Q: Would you please tell our readers about yourself, your family, your background, and your childhood experience?
A: I was born in Sanford. My family has been here since 1844 when my great-great-great grandfather, Elias Woodruff, moved to the island at the east end of Lake Monroe. He later built a home and grove at Fort Reid.
After attending Southside Elementary, Sanford Middle and Seminole High School, I graduated from the University of North Carolina. I returned home and started substitute teaching for Seminole County schools while considering applying to grad school. A full-time job became available at Lake Brantley High School, and I took that for the last quarter of the school year. I was hired by Principal Wayne Epps at Seminole High School and went back to UCF to get a master’s in education.
I was originally hired as a chemistry teacher, but I have taught most of the science courses offered throughout my career. For the past 25 years, I have focused on physics. After fourteen years at Seminole, I transferred to Oviedo High School in 1999 where I am now teaching. At Oviedo, I have been the Educational Technology Facilitator since about 2005, which means I help teachers get and use technology. I split time between this and teaching. In 2016, I started teaching AP computer science courses. I was chosen as teacher of the year at both Seminole High School and Oviedo High School.
I knew my wife Patti (Edgemon) when we were in high school, but we did not date until we both returned to Sanford after college. She is a nurse and works for Kindred at Home as a patient care coordinator. We dated for several years and married in 1995. We had our first child, Daniel in 1999, and then Rachel in 2000.
Q: Taking your previous role as a city commissioner into consideration, what goals do you hope to accomplish as mayor?
A: Going from commissioner to mayor, the goals do not really change. I have always focused on raising our development standards and working to get the best we can for the city.
New development is a double-edged sword and I want to make sure the city benefits the best it can. I think taking care of what we have and doing good maintenance is important, so I will continue to encourage the use of reserves to work on our deficit in capital replacements. We have been spending about $500,000 per year beyond the budget for the past five years. This money has gone to fixing parks, replacing aged vehicles, and doing maintenance throughout the city.
Q: How do you prioritize your time between family, volunteering, being a teacher and being part of the city government?
A: This is tough. I did not plan on being mayor until after I had retired from teaching, and COVID-19 has made managing time more difficult. The hours at school are up considerably for teachers as we try to figure out teaching live and online at the same time. We have essentially doubled our class preparations because each course requires an in-person plan and a modification of that for online students. I am lucky that I have a very supportive administration and great colleagues that have helped me manage covering classes when I have meetings to attend. But odd things end up happening. I was attending an Airport Authority Meeting virtually, which ran longer than I expected, and I had a class starting. Luckily, the assignment for the class that day was something that students were working on independently and the meeting only overlapped for about 15 minutes. But I had one earbud in for my online students, another in the other ear for the meeting, and had to be careful that I had the correct microphone muted when I talked.
One of the first conversations I had with our city manager, Norton Bonaparte, was how my school job did not allow the freedom of scheduling that Mayor Triplett had. Mr. Bonaparte and the rest of the staff have been great working around my schedule. What has suffered the most is some of my volunteer time. For the past six years, I have coordinated our troops first year program that brings in the new scouts and gets them started. I had been planning to ease out of that, but this will be my last year because of the time commitment.
What I would really like to be able to do is join in on many of the other opportunities around town and spend a little more time in areas of the city I am not as familiar with. If school settles down, and after January with scouts, I hope to be able to do that. One of the things I have enjoyed most about being mayor is going to the ribbon cuttings, the food distributions, and the Halloween events.
Q: Who or what inspires you to serve your community?
A: My parents always encouraged giving and service. In high school, I was president of the Interact Club. In college, I was a member of the APO service fraternity. I have always thought of serving as just what people should do — help others. I had long thought about running for office someday, but my jump into politics was really based on some land use decisions the city had made over the years and my experiences trying to influence those decisions. I got involved because I wanted to make sure we were developing Sanford for the people who live here.
During my first year in office, I was on the losing side of a lot of 4-1 votes over building a convention center on Fort Mellon Park. But eventually, the financial facts doomed that plan, and I was later able to help push through the redevelopment of the park as we were entering the 2008 recession, including the splash pad, playground, and basketball courts.
In the 1970s or earlier, a lot of property was rezoned to encourage development to increase the tax base. Since I took office, we have put higher development standards in place. We rezoned Georgetown back to single family residential, and we are getting ready to do the same thing in Goldsboro. Both neighborhoods and the historic district had all been zoned for multifamily development even though they were single-family neighborhoods.
Q: What is your vision of Sanford as it transforms in the next 5 years?
A: To put it simply, I want Sanford to be a place that everyone can enjoy growing up, raising a family, and making a living just like my family and I have. I can tell a lot of stories about what that was like, but we need to make Sanford work for who lives here now. I want to target a couple of properties and areas. We need to help some of our big historic buildings become productive again. I want to make Historic Goldsboro Boulevard a new community redevelopment area. I want us to do a better job targeting redevelopment rather than developing new areas. We have recently seen a lot of housing built on vacant lots throughout the city. We need to encourage that and make it easier.
We have a lot going for us: the completion of the River Walk, an exciting downtown, a variety of residential communities, the airport, and a lot of industrial and business areas. We need to make all of those work for our residents, and we need to make sure all of the areas of our city and all of our residents are part of our success.