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After 12 years of serving on City Council, Vice Mayor Paul Freiling is asking residents to again choose him to help guide the City of Williamsburg as it continues to emerge from the recession.
Freiling, 54, is one of five people vying for three seats on council and the only incumbent. Mayor Clyde Haulman and Councilwoman Judy Knudson decided not to run for re-election.
While he values the fresh perspectives that are certain to come with the first-time council members, Freiling believes his experience can help provide stability as the new members learn the ropes.
If residents are worried complacency comes with his long tenure in public service, Freiling said they should rest assured that is not the case.
“I still have the interest, I still have the energy … and I really care about the community,” said Freiling, a College of William & Mary graduate and longtime Colonial Williamsburg employee. “I want to keep doing what I can to help keep it a very special place and keep it strong.”
Though his general goals for the city – support education and the local economy, keep taxes low but services high, and maintain or improve quality of life – have not changed much over the course of his three terms on council, the issues and methods for tackling them have evolved.
Over the course of the next four years, Freiling would like to see City Council continue its emphasis on improving the local economy. Because the tourism industry is such a vital component of the city’s economy, Freiling said council should look to create an environment that helps drive tourism, such as being more active in support of festivals and events in the area or making the city’s roads more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
Council’s redevelopment efforts in recent years are also a part of building the local economy, Freiling said, and he would continue to support creative ideas that help commercial and residential housing stock evolve without affecting the overall character of the city.
In other ongoing issues, Freiling supports building the fourth middle school on the James Blair site; advocates for rail improvements between the Peninsula and Washington, D.C.; and believes the city should encourage developers to build the kind of housing stock that would attract young professionals.
Though his life in public service technically started in high school when he helped his employer campaign for City Council, Freiling credits a conversation at work more than 18 years ago for starting his trajectory on city boards and commissions.
A colleague mentioned her husband, a member of City Council at the time, had been lamenting not enough young people wanted to serve on various boards.
“I was a bit younger then, of course, and another colleague and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘We didn’t know there were boards and commissions to serve on,” Freiling said. “She gave us the information we needed to know and we both applied.”
Freiling was appointed to the Planning Commission, and also served as the board’s representative to the Beautification Advisory Committee and the Architectural Review Board over the course of his five years.
While he valued the work he was able to do for the city as a member of the Planning Commission, he grew restless in not having the authority to be a decision-maker for how the community would evolve in areas beyond land use.
“Every time you get into land use discussions, it bleeds over into other aspects of the community … and you can’t think about them because your charge is to just think about the very straightforward, somewhat constrictive issues of land use,” Freiling said of his time on Planning Commission. “After I did that for a while, I felt like there was so much more going on in the community that I wanted to be involved with.”
Freiling calls himself an “idea guy” who relies on the four other members on City Council and community members to dismiss, accept or expand on each one of the ideas he brings forward.
“Not surprisingly, I think a lot of my ideas are really good,” said Freiling, a College of William & Mary graduate and a longtime Colonial Williamsburg employee. “Occasionally, I need to be grounded with the opinions of others. I also know that whatever idea that I have, even if it’s a good idea in concept, I might not have fleshed it out the way it could be. There are people who can make it better.”
In his 12 years on City Council, Freiling has received most of his feedback from citizens while out enjoying the city as an active member of the community.
Parties, football games and even his routine morning jogs often include at least one conversation in which someone is offering an idea, asking a question or criticizing a recent decision he made.
“You have to really love this stuff because if you don’t, it can drive you crazy. I’ve told myself that if there ever comes a day when I don’t want to hear what somebody has to say on a city-related topic, then I’m done,” Freiling said. “I’m still interested. You never know when someone will give me that one great idea that nobody ever thought of that’s really going to put this community on a different track.”