Mary Hilliard won’t seek re-election

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mary Hilliard, the longest-serving current member of Franklin’s City Council, will not seek re-election come the May election. Hilliard confirmed her decision to The Tidewater News following last Monday’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Mary Hilliard

Hilliard, who represents Ward 5 of the city, was first elected to council in June of 1988, taking office in July of that year.

“There comes a time that you have to pass the gavel onto someone else,” she said. “I have enjoyed my tenure and I hope I’ve done something to earn the respect of the people. I enjoyed working with them. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve given a lot, and I will continue to work with the citizens of Franklin, though not in that seat.”

Mayor Frank Rabil made the following statement when he learned of her retirement from council:

“Mary Hilliard has faithfully served the citizens of Ward 5, as well as the entire city for the past 30 years, leading the city through economic ups and downs, floods, major closings and now revitalization,” he said. “She and her institutional knowledge and dedication to the city will be sorely missed. We wish her the best and are most grateful for her contributions and service to the City of Franklin.”

Rabil added that he felt Hilliard had been a positive influence on many of the other members of council, and that she always had the ability to feel the “pulse of the city.”

“She has the ear of her constituents and is able to pass that along to other members of council,” he said.

His comments were echoed by his predecessor, former mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn, who served with Hilliard on council for over 15 years.

“Councilwoman Hilliard did a lot for me in helping me to understand government,” Johnson-Ashburn said. “I took the council seat in 1999 and I was very new to government. She really enlightened me, I could depend on her, call her and ask her questions.”

Johnson-Ashburn said that Hilliard’s accomplishments on council over the decades were too numerous to list, but described her as “a pioneer” for being one of the first, if not the first, to serve on council after the ward system was implemented.

“She’s always been an advocate for justice and fairness,” Johnson-Ashburn added. “They were key words I heard through her many years of service.”

City Manager R. Randy Martin said Hilliard had been instrumental in working with the other council members to rebuild the city’s financials after the economic recession of the mid- to late-2000s. He also highlighted the city’s success in pursuing shared services agreements with both Isle of Wight and Southampton counties during her tenure.

“We’ve had significant success in shared service efforts to reduce costs to citizens and taxpayers, she was a strong advocate of that,” Martin said.

He also described her as very attentive, saying he doesn’t recall her having missed more than a couple meetings at most during his time as city manager.

The councilwoman’s term will expire on June 30, but Ward 5 residents might need not bemoan the lack of a Hilliard representing them on council. City Registrar Jennifer Maynard confirmed that Hilliard’s daughter, Wynndolyn Hilliard-Copeland had completed all paperwork necessary to be on the ballot for the city council election in May.

Regarding her mother’s decades of service on council, Hilliard-Copeland highlighted her involvement in the city’s comeback after the flood of 1999, the establishment of the Pretlow Industrial Park, the building of Paul D. Camp Community College’s Workforce Development Center and the city’s expansion into the Hunterdale area and parts of Southampton County.

The deadline for candidates to qualify to appear on the ballot was Tuesday. According to Maynard, as of 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, one other candidate, Ricky Sykes, had qualified to appear on the ballot for Ward 5, Councilman Greg McLemore had qualified to run for re-election to the Ward 3 seat, Frank Rabil had qualified to run for re-election as mayor and Bobby Cutchins had qualified to run for re-election to the Ward 6 seat.