Working Toward a Successful County Leadership Transition
Unexpected events and human tragedy often go hand-in-hand. One such event happened Tuesday, Nov. 27, on Vass-Carthage Road outside Vass when a vehicle driven by Jim Westbrook slammed into a tractor-trailer loaded with logs. In the gathering twilight of a country road, the interim manager of Moore County was declared dead, leaving a grieving family that was not without other tastes of sorrow.
Great utility players, which has been Jim Westbrook's role in Moore County management, often do not receive the public appreciation that is due them. John Lentz's story of the Westbrook memorial service in The Pilot on Dec. 2 was a sensitive account of his impact, his personality and his management ability, and should speak as to why many of us are so sad.
Lentz concluded by quoting Cynthia Strickland, Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church's parish associate, as saying: "He (Westbrook) would say, 'Carry on.'"
Reached by telephone, Nick Picerno - who won re-election for another term - anticipates that the loss will make the transition more difficult but pointed out that the loss is first and foremost a personal one for colleagues and primarily for the Westbrook family.
"My heart goes out to his wife," Picerno said with sadness in his voice. "She has had to endure more pain than is normal for one human being. He will be missed."
As far as the void in county leadership is concerned, Picerno noted that residents should be assured that business will follow the transition plan that has been in place for some time now. After the retirement of T. Cary McSwain, which occurred as scheduled, most essential duties will be assumed by Tax Administrator Wayne Vest, who will fill the slot on a temporary basis.
Chairman Larry Caddell echoed optimism about the future. Despite the loss of Westbrook's guiding hand, he forecast that bold initiatives under discussion for the past several months will move forward without delay.
The commissioners will need to focus on a recruiting search to find candidates with the energy, talent and experience to provide 21st century-style leadership.
When the Sheriff's Department moves into their new space in the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Building next spring, the commissioners will need to allocate available space and plan future needs of the court system. This may have to be accomplished before a new manager is named.
For the past few months Picerno has been running for re-election, and his campaign focused on the achievements during his first term. I have always believed those achievements were clearly definable, and I have anticipated they would be evident to the voters. So during our private time this summer and fall we have discussed goals for the next four years.
Picerno' s thought process is clear and uncluttered. The objectives are not complicated, but reflect the real world of Moore County.
Over the past few months I have come to understand the thinking of Commissioner Craig Kennedy and learn about the background and ambition that Commissioner-elect Randy Saunders will bring to the board. The skills are complementary, with Saunders expressing a great deal of interest in the work of Partners in Progress and the new program "Moore Forward."
In addition to the selection of a new manager, it is important that the elected leaders prepare themselves and county taxpayers for the coming income property revaluation. The goal, according to the incoming board, is to adjust the rate so that property owners see little or no increase in the amount of taxes that they pay. It is the amount of actual tax paid, rather than the rate, that impacts our property owners.
The commissioners need to upgrade countywide communications to the public, the business community and our municipal management. They will want to look at what we are doing now and what we might accomplish with integration and a more common focus.
Active leadership at all levels is aware that the dynamics of Moore County living, long dependent on retirees, tourism and golf, are undergoing changes that reflect new demographics and new business models.
There were relatively few school buses in 20th century Moore County. Today's demographic requirement is for superior education modeled for future job needs, a service economy and support for entrepreneurship-driven business startups.
We have the tools to carve out our future, and there is no time like the present to get started.
Walter B. Bull Jr. lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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