The dust was still settling from the announcement last week from Surry County Commissioner Larry Johnson that he would not be seeking re-election to the board when the first of what may be many hats was thrown into the ring to replace him upon the completion of his term.
Last week in making the announcement that he felt his time on the board of county commissioners had reached its logical conclusion, Johnson said he wanted to clear the deck for anyone who was considering a run. He correctly noted that the filing period for races in the 2024 election cycle in Surry County begins on December 4.
Monday morning, Melissa Hiatt announced her intent to file for her candidacy for Surry County Commissioner for one of the two seats on the board of commissioner that represent the Mount Airy District; Commissioner Bill Goins currently holds the second seat.
“I don’t think of this as running for office. I think of it as an opportunity to serve the community on a new level. To work with leaders, regardless of affiliation, for what is best for our citizens,” she said Monday.
As a lifelong resident of Surry County, Hiatt feels she is qualified to be a commissioner in part due to her long history of advocacy for the citizens of not only this county, but surrounding ones as well.
She said her dedication to professional excellence, client service, and creative problem-solving has led to “pragmatic and just resolutions for the agencies and individuals” she has served.
Many county residents will recognize the surname of course, but beyond the generations of area residents who share the Hiatt name, she is better known to many in this region as the Executive Director of the United Fund of Surry.
In that role Hiatt has overseen fundraising efforts and the administration of those funds as they are doled out to over two dozen member organizations. Those organizations do not report to her or United Fund but are partners in collaborative efforts that aid the citizens of Surry County.
Her face is recognizable with an often-seen smile showing from a distance, but it has also been known to be stern one that has stood before the county commissioners as Hiatt has dug her heels in on matters of importance to her.
She was one of the leaders in the fight against the spread of big box retailers into communities like Sheltontown that battled back against a possible dollar store at Quaker Road and Westfield Road. Her attention to detail in pouring over the county’s land use plans to see what arrows could be added into their communal quiver against Teramore Development LLC proved that a well-prepared David can indeed slay Goliath.
When there is some free time to be found among the myriad responsibilities – seen and unseen – she said she enjoys spending time with her husband of 34 years Chris and family, which includes three children and four grandchildren.
Hiatt also spends her free time giving back to the community through supporting local non-profits, volunteering where needed, attending local county and municipal board meetings and serving on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce as well as being an active member of Mount Airy Rotary.
Participation in the local non-profit community also keeps Hiatt busy attending and supporting their events and assisting new non-profits with legal requirements, tax guidelines and program collaboration.
Take a glance down member organizations that make up the United Fund of Surry and find healthcare, food security, senior care, youth services, emergency services, education, and homelessness all of which are issues that can affect anyone in this community.
These interactions help her to know the many players across the county’s landscape and her commitment to the United Fund members agencies and other community groups she feels has afforded her in-depth insight into the lives of Surry County citizens.
Helping make decisions on how the United Fund allocates the money it raises means that Hiatt requires more than a passing understanding of their unique missions and challenges it order to be the best possible steward of what can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
In announcing that he was not seeking another term, the jovial Johnson made a few jokes about how easy being county commissioner is. Even if subtle sarcasm is not one’s cup of tea, it probably would still have been hard to miss his tongue in cheek comments.
Truth be told the job of county commissioner is just that, a job, and one that takes a great deal of time and energy to do effectively while managing what will soon be a $100 million annual budget. The commissioners make big dollar decisions that affect everything from property taxes to school budgets to multimillion-dollar economic incentives all envisioned to forge a bright future for Surry County.
At the close of commissioners’ meetings, the board takes a few minutes to speak on whatever they like. Each has in their own way said the same thing: being a county commissioner is rewarding, but very challenging. It can be taxing to be on the receiving end of angry phone calls from constituents or try to balance the needs and desires of individuals against the greater good.
Hiatt said it is easy to explain her interest in taking on that challenge and running to become a County Commissioner, “I have always been committed to serving our community and have done this from volunteer positions and agency service level for almost 20 years.”
In making her announcement to represent Mount Airy on the Surry County Board of Commissioners she hit on two themes that may resonate with the overwhelmingly conservative voters of Surry County: fiscal responsibility and keeping a level head.
There are some Americans who bemoan what they say are growing storm clouds on the horizon of the Republic. While some will gripe about it, others will seek to create the change they desire and Hiatt happily considers herself amongst the latter, “It is time for me to step forward to an elected level to support our community through a commonsense approach and commitment to fiscal responsibility.”
Filing for all partisan offices is December 4 through 15, which included county commissioner, school boards, Register of Deeds, and both N.C. House and Senate.