Smithfield’s Emery Ashley won’t seek re-election

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SMITHFIELD — Councilman and former mayor pro-tem Emery Ashley says he won’t seek a third term on the Smithfield Town Council.

“There’s no negative reason,” said Ashley. “I just felt two terms were enough.”

Ashley, a Smithfield attorney, was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.

“I’ve enjoyed it and I did it the right way, “ said Ashley. “I’ve spent a lot of time working on the town council. I have no regrets. I’ve enjoyed being on the council and sitting through the process of getting things accomplished. We’re great town, I hope more people will realize that and get involved.”

Ashley said that during his tenure on the council he’s not had to field many residents’ complaints.

“I’ve seen more complaints on social media,” said Ashley. “My experience has been that once you explain the governmental process and why something went a certain direction, most people understand.”

Ashley said when he was first elected, Smithfield was facing some tough financial issues.

“We knew we had to get a handle on the town’s finances.,” said Ashley. During my time on council, we’ve gone from a fund balance of less than 2% to 83%.”

Eight years ago, Ashley said, finances appeared desperate.

“We got letters from the Local Government Commission about our finances,” said Ashley. “Our town could’ve been taken over. It was a herculean effort to turn our finances around and I credit everyone. We’re now in good shape, we’re in a great posture for great things to happen.”

Ashley said one thing he continues to be concerned about, but doesn’t see any prospect for change, is the state’s sales tax distribution.

“Of every sales tax dollar, 85% goes to Johnston County and the remaining 15% is distributed to the towns based on population,” said Ashley. “That means Smithfield citizens pay 100% of the costs roads, infrastructure, fire and police while the county gets 85% of the sales tax. This is a rule that applies to everyone, but we need a more equitable distribution to meet local infrastructure needs.”

Ashley said the controversial county property tax revaluation had a mixed impact on Smithfield property owners.

I know of some properties where taxes went down while others went up quite a bit, a 10 to 20% increase,” said Ashley. But we’ve kept the local property rate 57 cents per $100, where it’s been for he past 16 years.”

Ashley said that even though he’s stepping down from the council, he plans to stay involved in the town of Smithfield.

“I’ll probably work more at my legal practice but I’ll stay involved — I love Smithfield,” said Ashley. “It’s my hope that I’ll find other ways to get involved. I’ll stay abreast of what’s going on, we’re always going to need folks to get involved.”

A Smithfield native, Ashley is a 1979 graduate of Smithfield-Selma High School. He attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and then transferred to Campbell University’s trust management program. Ashley entered banking for awhile, earned his law degree from Campbell in 1989 and has been a practicing attorney ever since, specializing in estate planning and residential and commercial real estate.

He and his wife Kim will soon celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary and are members of First Baptist Church of Smithfield.

They have four children, Emery Jr., a Greensboro attorney; Sarah Wheeler, employed by a Smithfield accounting firm; William, a Wilmington chemist and John, a rising Campbell University senior.

Ashley’s sons have formed a rock band called WEJ and they performed at this year’s Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival. Ashley said William writes most of the band’s music.

Ashley said he looks forward to spending more time with his family, visiting his 2-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, in Greensboro and going to the beach.

He offered some advice for his successor on the town council.

“Work hard, learn as much as you can about the issues facing the council,” said Ashley “I expect them to be willing to make the time commitment the job requires.”