On the eve of elections in Burke County, Councilman Forrest Fleming sat in his seat in the council chambers for his last regular council meeting as councilman and mayor pro tem.
The retirement comes at the end of Fleming’s 12th year on the council.
“I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a lot of fun,” Fleming said. “I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve met a lot of great people, and the city does have a lot of great people. Very well educated and people who have, through their experience in city government, been able to accomplish a lot.”
One of those accomplishments was the creation of Morganton Heights shopping center.
“It was a real privilege to have a little part in the Morganton Heights shopping center, which was constructed during the course of my term,” Fleming said.
That’s not the only thing the city has going for it, Fleming said. Several projects on the horizon should have citizens looking forward to the city’s growth in the coming years.
“I think everybody in the city needs to look forward to the great things that’s going to be taking place in the next several years,” Fleming said. “With the school of science and math, the completion of the South Sterling and West Parker [connection] ... the two new hotels that are in the planning stage.”
He mentioned the school of science and math specifically, and said that having 300 students living on a campus in Morganton is a great opportunity for the students.
“I’ve told a lot of people that the school of science and math is probably one of the greatest things that has happened to Morganton and Burke County in the last 100 years,” Fleming said. “And of course we’re all looking forward to their opening in the fall of 2021.”
Current council members shared with The News Herald some of their well wishes for Fleming in his retirement, and spoke a little bit about what it was like to serve alongside him.
Sidney Simmons served with Fleming for eight years on the council, and said that while they didn’t agree all the time, he appreciated that their relationship stayed civil.
“Forrest is a good man,” Simmons said. “He is a good Christian man. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we never did fight. Never did come to blows.”
Moving forward, Simmons said he wanted to stay in touch with Fleming.
Mayor Ronnie Thompson, who served with Fleming for six years, said he also had disagreed with Fleming on some items, but Fleming always had a way of winning him over.
“He has always expressed his view and convinced me he was right,” Thompson said. “Only the best [wishes] for him. He’s seen a lot of changes in Morganton, and he truly always voted for the best interest of Morganton.”
Wendy Cato said she had only served with Fleming for two years, but she was grateful to have sat next to him in the council chambers.
“He always is aware of what’s going on,” Cato said. “He makes it a point to comment on things that are important. I believe he has been someone who not only cares about the city as a whole, but he’s been an advocate for the economic development of downtown.”
Chris Hawkins also served with Fleming for two years, and said he hopes to see Fleming continuing to serve the city in other capacities.
“It’s been an honor [to serve with him],” Hawkins said. “He always puts the city first and does what he thinks is best.”
It wasn’t just a privilege for Hawkins.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to have served the citizens of Morganton for the last 12 years,” Fleming said.