Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with the owner of Hallmark and Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin. Mayor Tergin previously served on the city council and held many other leadership positions until she became mayor in 2015. She plans on running for a second term as mayor on the upcoming ballot in April.
How long have you been living in Jefferson City?
I’m a lifelong resident, so I’ve lived here for all 46 years. I was born at St. Mary’s, in fact, so I’ve been here a long time.
What got you interested in politics?
It’s something I never expected I would do. In fact, growing up in the family business, I was more focused on running the business rather than politics. So third-generation here, my parents named the Hallmark store after me when I was four years old back in ’76. When they opened it I was just four, so I kind of grew up knowing I would run the family business. Even though I went to college at Missouri State and got a business degree, I knew I would come back here. So politics was just unexpected, but I found myself taking on leadership roles like being president of the Downtown Association and then other leadership roles where I just kind of naturally had people say well you should run for city council. I thought, “I’m not running for council, I own a business. I am not going to go out there and take a stand on things.” But I finally got motivated. I ran in 2008, and they tore down a bunch of homes on McCarty Street that year in October, and it is still a vacant field. They were going to put a conference center there, and I really got motivated because I felt like the council was out of touch with our needs, so it motivated me enough when they tore down that block of all those historical homes that I needed to get active. So that is kind of how it started, and I ran and served on the council for six years.
What responsibilities do you have as mayor?
It’s almost like two different jobs. The responsibility of setting policy for the city, working with the council members, and the council does all of the voting on the city ordinances so we can pass them, and my role is more of a leadership one. We have the policy making role and overseeing that aspect of it with the city council, and then there is the of public role: being out in the community for promoting new businesses and growth within the city and initiatives. So it is interesting because it is almost like two jobs combined into one. You are doing all your meetings at city hall and at the same time you are doing your public part of being out and about in the community.
What impact do you have on the community?
What I hope the biggest impact I have is being positive about our city and what we have to offer and also setting a tone of respect in the community because that is how I like to lead. I know sometimes in politics it can be challenging, but I think that if everyone could just lead from a place of respect, it makes a difference. I try to do that. I set goals when I was elected for the three big projects I would like to see done or happen in Jefferson City: prison redevelopment, Capital Avenue revitalization, and riverfront access. So those are the three big things I feel are important. Those are the things I am working toward, and those are projects the city has wanted to do for several years. Other initiatives I hope I am making a difference on are things such as the wellness of the community. As a mayor, you want to have things like community wellness programs. So when it comes to “Buckle Up, Phone Down,” that’s a huge initiative I have gotten behind, and the community has too. But being a leader in that campaign and things like “Tobacco 21,” you know raising the age for buying cigarettes and trying to encourage healthy behavior. When I was a council member, being behind the non-smoking ordinance and that kind of thing was an important issue for me. So those are just overall things that make our community better.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
I think probably the best part is working with veterans in the community and getting to show appreciation for their service to our country. That is so important, and any chance we get to be involved in veterans group events has probably been the most rewarding. We have had the crew of the USS Jefferson City here when they come to town, which was truly an honor and same with the USS Missouri. I think honoring veterans has honestly been the best but also just connecting with the citizens and with people of Jefferson City. That is really what it is all about at the local level, what is on people’s mind and what is important to them in our community. You have to be out and about and connect with people in order to lead from that place of being one with the community.
How do manage your time between running a business and your responsibilities as mayor?
I wish I knew that answer. Well, I try to always tell myself that I am doing the best I can because I know it can be overwhelming, and I think in any field, whatever we do, it is hard because we are pulled in a bunch of different directions, especially as leaders. I think prioritizing the things I know I have to do and want to do and then trying to get to those priorities is how. Time management is definitely a challenge, and I think realizing there are times when I can be there in person or if I can’t, I can send a letter of recognition or utilizing other council members to be there too. You know, time management is something that even I am trying to get better at because we need to take care of ourselves too and spend family time when we can and have time with our friends. So certainly that is something I also try to make time for that when I can. I know that if I am not strong, I cannot lead the community. Trying to take care of myself sounds silly, but taking my vitamins, trying to drink more water, trying to get more sleep, which is a real challenge, but if we are not rested and well then it is tough to take care of others whatever our position is. I am trying to get back to yoga because I have not done it as much since I have been mayor, but that is something where taking deep breaths and breathing in and the strength that comes from yoga physically and mentally keep your mind strong and you have to be strong sometimes when you are an elected position and try not to get down when people say negative things about you. Truly learning how to react to those kinds of things and keeping yourself calm and not letting it get to you sometimes in the political field I think is important. We often hear a lot of criticism in this position from people who don’t even know me as mayor and just learning how to cope and deal with that and turn it into something positive is a trait I am constantly working on.
What is your favorite thing about being mayor?
I love every bit of it! Really every minute of it. It is rewarding to actually feel like we can make a difference in the community. Seeing these things become a reality that we have talked about for many years, sometimes 20 years in our community, for example, prison redevelopment. It has been vacant for 14 years. Seeing how far it has come and being able to take what all the leaders have done in the past and being able to see the impact that project has had in the community is very gratifying. I recognize our assets as a community: prison redevelopment, Capital Avenue’s history, and the river. We have this amazing river here and the desire to enjoy it, have access, and see its beauty is an important element of our community. Enjoying nature and what we have as a community, that has been so rewarding to see those ideas start to gain momentum.
What new things are on the horizon for Jefferson City?
Well, those things I mentioned are really big. For example, for prison redevelopment, we are writing an RFP (request for proposal) or action RFQ (request for quotation), so we are requesting qualified developers [to begin construction on the extra acres of land from the Penitentiary]. Imagine the possibilities. We know the area’s potential. We would like to see a hotel and conference/exhibition place with meeting space as a starting point. Imagine everything else that could come with that in an area that has been vacant land in the heart of our city, a mile from our capitol, next to a major tourist attraction. Some may not realize what an asset the penitentiary is and the history it holds: it is over one hundred eighty years old, it is the oldest prison west of the Mississippi, and a hundred years older than Alcatraz. We have this asset, so seeing that has been great. In the Capital Avenue area, it was very difficult watching those homes deteriorate so we took action. It has taken years, but now we are saying okay we are going to use eminent domain as a tool if we have to, and that is not something we take lightly. It is a really big deal. Sadly, those homes are falling down, but we now have an action plan, and not only that, we have our first few properties that we are starting to see ready to turn over, which is a huge accomplishment for the city. The riverfront has been a dream since the 1980’s, it was included in a sales tax measure that wanted to see riverfront development and access to the river, and now we actually have a plan. If you go to https://www.bicentennialbridge.org/, you can see a plan for what this walkway from the capital to the island by the river is going to actually look like. Right now it is not IF we are going to do it, but when. Hence the name, Bicentennial Bridge. Our goal is to bring this to reality by 2021, so a major fundraising goal is planned. You kind of visualize those dreams of the community and then you figure out how are we going to get there. You get the right team, you get your action plan, and you just make it happen. That has been the most rewarding, to actually see projects that many people have said will never happen, happen in Jeff City. Now not only are they happening, but they are going to be really cool when they do.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I ran every two years for council, so I spent six years on the city council. For my final term, I actually lost my race to my opponent. At that time, I could have said that is a defeat, and to go through something like a loss in a public race can be though. You are kind of at this crossroads, and you think, well, I am not what Jefferson City wants I guess, and I am done in politics. Instead, the night I lost, people came up and said, oh good you can run for mayor. I thought they were out of their minds. I just lost a council race, how can you say that? Sometimes you need to be in those positions. I was no longer effective as a council member. I was not seeing these things, everything that we talked about just now, seeing that happen and come to fruition. Being able to regroup and find my way and my path with my team behind me because it was never about one person. The mayor is about the whole community, having community support, and having a team. Once that all clicked and came together, it was literally one year from the time I lost my council seat to the time I became mayor. Being able to overcome and win a mayoral race with six people in the race and come out ahead to serve as the second woman to lead the city as mayor of Jefferson City was a dream come true. I think I tell these stories because it is all how we react to those hardships or challenges or whatever we face. Everyone faces something. Just being able to say, do not be discouraged, just keep going toward your goals, and don’t let others define your goals. Sometimes I will say to a group, I am the mayor, and they will say “you’re the mayor?”, like they think either that is my nickname or I just call myself the mayor. Am I really the mayor, the real mayor? Yeah, I am the real mayor. Sometimes I have had to get my business card out and show people I really am the major if they do not know me or are not from here. I like being able to say that because it is important that people realize that we can all be whatever we want. In this country, if you work hard, like my grandfather always said, you can accomplish your goals, and you can do whatever you truly desire. What you want to do in life here in this country is possible with how great America is. I have always carried that with me. I am honored to have had that role model. I hope that by being mayor I can let others know that they can do what they really desire to do in life, to respect others, and to just go after their dreams.