Southern Pines Town Councilman Mitch Lancaster plans to resign his seat this summer and will not seek reelection to a second term.
The decision coincides with his family’s move to a new home in the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC) subdivision, which is in Pinehurst.
“We love being close to all the things downtown, but there is give and take to life,” Lancaster said, noting he’s been a member of CCNC for nine years and his family is looking forward to living closer to its amenities.
Lancaster announced his decision in advance of the open filing period for municipal elections that begins Friday, July 2 at 12 p.m. and runs through Friday, July 16 at 12 p.m.
In total, 37 municipal seats will be determined in November’s election, including two seats on the Southern Pines Town Council, which are currently held by Lancaster and Councilman Mike Saulnier.
Lancaster was initially elected to the Town Council in 2017, earning the second highest tally of votes behind Mayor Carol Haney. Lancaster is a local business owner who serves on the Resource Development Committee of the Boys & Girls Club of the Sandhills. He and Haney are both past presidents of the Southern Pines Rotary Club.
During his four-year term, Lancaster has proven to be a consistent supporter of economic development and business interests in the community. He also served on the West Southern Pines Task Force.
More recently, he’s become more widely known for his active stance opposing state-issued orders related to face masks.
Participating as members of the Freedom Matters NC organization, Lancaster, Pinehurst Village Councilwoman Lydia Boesch, and Michele Nix, a Carteret County resident and former vice-chair of the N.C. Republican Party, were the lead plaintiffs in a case filed with Carteret County Superior Court last month that seeks to curtain Gov. Roy Cooper’s power to issue executive orders related to the pandemic.
Cooper’s authority to issue executive orders is based on a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Freedom Matters contends that the state of emergency no longer exists. The lawsuit cites vaccination rates, the general availability and effectiveness of vaccinations and declining hospitalization rates. Executive Order No. 209 lists many of the same trends as justification for relaxing restrictions.
Lancaster’s anti-mask stance also created some turmoil earlier this year when he resigned from his role as chairman of the board at Episcopal Day School in Southern Pines, in part, in response to the school’s mask policy for students.
“EDS is a great school and I made fantastic relationships with my fellow board members, Jill Connett (EDS Head of School), teachers, and parents. I wish them nothing but the best.
“Being on the Council was and still is one of the treats of my life. I feel like I learned a ton and it has been wonderful except what we’ve gone through this past year,” he said. “I felt like as an elected leader in this area, that I needed to stand on my own principles and felt like if I didn’t stand up and speak out, that I would not have been able to look myself in the eye in years to come.
“I am very proud to be a part of Freedom Matters...I think history will prove and has already proven that a lot of what we espoused has been correct and accurate. A lot of what the governor and other lockdown proponents have done were completely ineffective, and we are still fighting it.”
Reflecting on his time in office, Lancaster said he is pleased with what he’s accomplished over the past four years. He credited Town Manager Reagan Parsons and Finance Director Tess Brubaker-Speis with the town’s strong fiscal performance and maintaining a flat tax rate for the last five consecutive years.
“It really doesn’t matter what the tax rate is, there is never enough money to hit everything on a wishlist. The town runs well, it’s not perfect, but it runs well.”
In 2019, a building assessment report of town-maintained properties indicated over $1 million in repairs would be required to address “immediate needs” over the next few years.
Lancaster said those types of studies and that information is critical in helping town leaders make good financially sound decisions.
“It made me very aware of all the doggone properties we have, and we have a lot. When you compare Southern Pines to like-municipalities from around the state, it makes you realize how many facilities we have. It also made me realize we are pretty well-positioned with facilities.”
In addition, he noted that the report was well-timed with the town’s overall review and decision-making on whether to develop a new Town Hall. Instead town leaders opted to finance a massive renovation and upfit of the Public Works Annex, a change that brings several related town departments under one roof.
“It would be nice if we had a Town Hall where more departments could be together, but that is just not the way it is. What we have are old, beautiful buildings that need to be kept up, and they are cool,” he said. “It was a much smaller investment to rehab the annex building and spend the money there. It was a better use of money.”
In terms of economic development, Lancaster said he enjoyed his time working with the West Southern Pines Task Force, “I’m hopeful for the future but there is only so much the town can do. Getting DFI involved, I have a ton of respect for them and what they do. They are taking in all sides and factors. It’s not just about development or just one person’s opinion. They seem to deliver on what they’ve said they would deliver.
“I am certainly a businessman and I do think I have that lens that if you think something makes sense, then do it,” he said. “I think it is important to have that voice from a business perspective on the Council. A good governing body needs diversity: and not just diversity in color, but in thought and experience.”