Smith says city staff is his legacy

Published 9:15 am Friday, December 3, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s outgoing City Manager James C. Smith didn’t hesitate when asked to name his top accomplishments in his five years as city manager.
“The most important legacy I leave behind is the staff,” Smith said in an interview Thursday.
Smith, who becomes Farmville’s manager next month, counts improvements with the Washington Police Department among his other top accomplishments.
“When I came here, there was a lot of mistrust with the police department,” Smith said.
Now, there is more diversity in the department, which has a better reputation with all segments of the community, Smith said.
“Going to a community-oriented format is the key,” said Smith, acknowledging that the department’s Project Next Step has been an important factor in improving its relationship with the community.
Project Next Step has been nominated for an Award of Excellence. The nomination was made by the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. The department finds out today if Project Next Step receives the award.
Project Next Step, funded by a grant authorized by the Governor’s Crime Commission, is designed to identify criminal activity in a targeted neighborhood. The project identifies individuals involved in unlawful conduct and presents a unique manner to deal with them. If successful, the intervention eliminates overt criminal activity while bringing city and community resources available to alter the individual’s lifestyle, according to project spokesmen.
Project Next Step is credited with helping lower the crime rate in Washington.
Smith also cites safety improvements at the city-owned Warren Field Airport and improvements at city-owned cemeteries among his achievements.
“An appropriate commitment to maintenance and respect in all of our cemeteries has been established,” Smith said. “There have been major improvements at Cedar Hill.”
Cedar Hill is the cemetery where many blacks were buried or continue to be buried.
Smith said he’s leaving with some disappointments. One disappointment is not seeing significant improvement in the city’s economic-development and waterfront-development efforts. Smith said he came to Washington to help move those efforts along. The Great Recession and its lingering effects on the local economy continue to hamper those efforts, Smith said.
“I think there’s a real question as to waterfront development. Washington is reluctant to change,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s disappointed to be leaving at a time when some projects are under way.
“I would have liked to see the (new) police station completed,” Smith added. “Same thing with the stormwater project.”
He was referring to the city preparing to spend about $5 million on stormwater runoff and drainage improvements.
“Oh, I do,” Smith replied when asked if he’s leaving the city in better shape than it was in when he arrived in January 2006. “There have been physical improvements and staff improvements. … There has been some progress in technology, but more improvements are needed. … When I got here, we had 30-year-old software, and we’ve addressed that issue. We’ve made some good progress in terms of hardware.”
However, problems with the city’s new financial software need to be addressed, especially the problems affecting billing, he said.
Mayor Archie Jennings wrote a four-page letter outlining Smith’s accomplishments in his five years with the city.
“Perhaps more importantly than these organizational accomplishments, Jim worked extensively with community groups including the City’s Human Relations Council, the Boys and Girls Club, the Purpose of God Annex’s recidivism program, the Washington Housing Authority, Martin County Community Action weatherization program, the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the Salvation Army, Eagle’s Wings, Project Help and other organizations to improve the lives of the citizens of Washington and bring the community closer together,” reads the letter.
“Jim Smith’s guiding hand has helped me tremendously in finding my way when working with the City of Washington,” wrote Beth Byrd, Washington Harbor District Alliance’s executive director, in an e-mail.
“From the time he arrived in Washington, Jim has been a strong advocate and supporter of the Downtown. Jim has always believed that we need a competent nonprofit organization to promote and foster the development of what we now call the Harbor District, and he has invested considerable personal and professional time in working with us to help our organization mature and prosper,” wrote Ross Hamory, WHDA president, in an e-mail. “His involvement was crucial in developing the Harbor Management Plan, creating the Washington Visualization and Reinvestment Strategy, starting the Little Washington Sailing Club and championing the redevelopment of old City Hall. Jim’s guidance and support have been key to making the Washington Harbor District Alliance a successful advocate for our Historic Downtown and its waterfront. The WHDA Board members and I wish him Godspeed, his counsel and commitment will be missed.”
When asked what he will miss most about Washington, Smith singled out the Washington Harbor District Alliance, which was known as Downtown Washington on the Waterfront when he came to the city five years ago.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with those folks,” Smith said.
When he begins working in Farmville, he will face some of the same issues he faced in Washington, Smith said. Those issues include downtown revitalization and utility costs, he said.
Soon after beginning work in Farmville, he will take part in a three-day retreat with the Farmville commissioners and other town officials. That’s when he expects to find out the specific assignments the commissioners want him to take on and their priorities regarding those assignments.
Smith won’t sever all ties with Washington when he leaves.
“I’ve enjoyed living here. … We’ve become familiar with eastern North Carolina,” said Smith, an avid sailor. “My boat will be here indefinitely.”