COLUMBIA – In late 2000, lifelong Boone County resident Jason Thornhill accepted a promotion that would take him to a distant Chicago suburb.
It was a big step up: a better job with more pay and a fancy title at a major retailer.
PERSONAL: Age 38. Married to Leslie Thornhill. 3-year-old twins, son Cooper and daughter Kenley.
OCCUPATION: Broker-Salesman and co-owner of Weichert Realtors — First Tier.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in business administration from William Woods University.
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: thornhillforcouncil.net
BACKGROUND: Former retail manager, member of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, board member with Show Me Central Habitat for Humanity and member of Elks Lodge #594.
TOP 4 ISSUES
Public Safety: Won't cut public safety budget. Will support Neighborhood Watch, community policing and crime-prevention efforts. Will work with landlords to prevent rentals to big-city criminals and repeat offenders.
Economy: Will look to copy successful ideas from other cities. Will try to streamline the process for businesses relocating or expanding in Columbia. Will work to create jobs for folks with a high-school education. Won't let city grow complacent despite high marks for quality of life.
Infrastructure: Will work for better access to the Second Ward for emergency services. Will direct zoning and development along the Providence Road extension.
Energy: Will support a second Callaway County nuclear plant. Will look into load management and other energy-use reduction methods.
AUDIO: Jason Thornhill
As the new year loomed and his late-January transfer date grew ever closer, Thornhill, now a candidate for the Second Ward seat on the City Council, stopped to think about a few things. What he'd leave behind. His parents, who both worked for MU. His wife, Leslie, who grew up in Fulton. And Columbia, MU and the parks and the countryside that he'd grown to think of as home.
"If I looked at it from a financial standpoint, it didn't make sense to stay," Thornhill said. "But it's not just about money. It actually helped make the decision easier when I stopped and just thought about it."
Around New Year's Day, Thornhill turned down the promotion. His position in Columbia was no longer available, and he'd recently sold his house, but he knew he'd made the right decision.
As it happened, selling that house was just the beginning. Thornhill said the agent who helped in the transaction mentioned that Thornhill might do well in real estate himself.
"I thought, 'That's an interesting consideration,'" he said. Almost a decade later, Thornhill owns one-sixth of Weichert, Realtors — First Tier, and he said that, even in a down market, he's committed to his new career.
"In terms of long-term plans, it's something I'm really excited about," Thornhill said.
Speaking of long-term plans, Thornhill said his changed when his twins were born in 2005.
"The conversion to parenthood changes the way you look at everything," he said. "That's really when I started looking at city government and the environment that I was raising my kids in."
Thornhill said he hoped his City Council campaign and any involvement that might follow would set a positive example for his children.
He also said that, along with his growing family, his work as a real estate agent and Broker-Salesman changed the way he viewed Columbia.
"I look at the city so much different as a Realtor than I did just driving to work each day," Thornhill said. "You absolutely have to look at the city like it's a business."
He said to be a successful councilman, "the citizens have to be viewed as a customer base. You have to figure out the best way to provide what they want."
As a real estate agent, Thornhill is used to seeing his name on signs around town. But this time, it's different.
"It just kind of makes it real," he said. "I'm running for City Council, it's affecting me differently than I expected it to. I figured it would be just another sign with my name on it."
Thornhill's name first started appearing on signs for RE/MAX Boone Realty. He moved to First Tier when it started up and stayed when it affiliated with Weichert — Realtors. He took an ownership stake in the business in January 2007, while the housing bubble was at its height.
Thornhill said he still agonized over the decision to invest in the company, an agony that returned during the present lagging economy, when it became clear that "this is not working out like I thought it would."
"You really had to search a little bit to see if you're comfortable continuing on the same path," Thornhill said.
After a "careful review of where we'd come from and where we'd been," he decided to stay in real estate, despite a drop of 30 percent of his annual income. The flexible schedule allowed him to pick up his kids from school and do things such as campaign for City Council.
"We never got over our heads as far as financial commitments," Thornhill said. "We just never assumed that the really, really good years in real estate were just going to always be there."
With six people holding equal pieces of the business, meetings at Weichert, Realtors – First Tier can become as heated as any City Council meeting. Thornhill's co-owners say while they've had their disagreements, Thornhill helps prevent discord by maintaining a professional attitude, an even-handed approach and the same careful decision-making that made him turn down that promotion and stay in Columbia years ago.
"We have disagreed before, and he was really good about talking the problem out and talking with all sides," said real estate agent and co-worker Brooke McCarty. "He seriously is very open to listening to all sides before he makes his decision."
Thornhill will "make the best choice he has available to him at the time with the facts that he has," real estate agent and co-worker Rob Smith said. "You're never gonna please everybody all of the time. He's going to have more of that in the political limelight. It's just impossible to please everybody."
Another co-owner, real estate agent Judd Price, said while Thornhill always brings his own opinion to the table, it's not the only one he's willing to consider.
"He tries to keep people happy," Price said. "He's not real strong-minded on his way is the only way; he generally covers all his bases before he gives an opinion. He's just a really intelligent individual."
McCarty said there's more to Thornhill than his restrained, thoughtful approach to business.
"He really is funny," McCarty said. "He's kind of sarcastic. It's a good thing for our office, he'll just say something funny and make you laugh."
Thornhill himself told of the time when, as a rookie real estate agent eager to impress clients looking to trust him with the biggest purchase of their life, he brought clients into a house that wasn't supposed to be occupied.
There was an elderly man on the couch, and he wasn't moving. At all.
Thornhill tried to wake him, but there was no response.
"This guy died on the couch," Thornhill said of what he thought at the time. "How do I deal with this?"
Thornhill said he thought he saw the motionless form breathing, so, like any good salesman, he went on to show the house, doing his best to disregard the inert gentleman on the sofa. On the inside, he was in "crisis mode" the entire time, preoccupied with the man's welfare.
Fortunately, Thornhill said, the man woke up as the tour ended, and today he's able to laugh about the mishap.
For the first 18 years of his life, Thornhill was, like his grandparents, one of the roughly 1,000 people who call the northern Boone County town of Sturgeon home.
He watched his father, an MU physiology professor, struggle for grant money, once even stretching his limited budget by traveling to Colorado, staying with alumni and personally trapping the groundhogs he needed for a study.
After graduating from Sturgeon High School, Thornhill moved to Columbia in 1988 to attend MU. He later earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from William Woods University in Fulton.
Before his City Council campaign took over his free time, Thornhill said he spent time outdoors golfing or working on his 1966 Mustang.
Thornhill said he moved to the Second Ward in 1996. His family, including his wife, Leslie, and his twin 3-year-olds, Cooper and Kenley, just moved into a new house in the ward he hopes to soon represent on the City Council.