Under new management

Published 1:09 am Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beaufort County Manager Randell K. Woodruff in his office in the Beaufort County Administrative Building. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

Randell K. Woodruff, the new Beaufort County manager, had not planned to start his new job here before Sept. 6, but Hurricane Irene changed his plans.

After the former Camden County manager saw that county would be spared much of the hurricane’s wrath, he came to work in Beaufort County early — spending much of his time with emergency workers watching as the storm devastated many parts of the county and helping prepare for the storm’s aftermath.

Since then, he has spent much of his time responding to residents’ concerns about debris removal, mosquito abatement and other aspects of the storm.

“It’s been really busy,” Woodruff said in a recent interview, during which he talked about his priorities for the county in the coming weeks and months.

While the hurricane affected his first weeks on the job, Woodruff has begun to look to the future — holding a series of meetings with local officials, including municipal, business and education leaders to begin forging new relationships.

“My main goal in the next few weeks is to get out and meet with people in the community,” he said.

As part of those meetings, he hopes to find ways the county government can work in collaboration with other local organizations – including the several municipalities that call Beaufort County home.

As county manager, Woodruff oversees a general fund budget of approximately $50 million and, currently, 288 full-time employees along with a countywide water enterprise budget of approximately $5 million with 25 full-time employees.

Woodruff said that making sure the county’s employees are treated fairly is one of his priorities

Under terms of his contract, Woodruff will be paid an annual base salary of $110,000, or a monthly salary of $9,166.66 in installments at the same time other county employees are paid. When Woodruff completes his master’s degree in public administration, he will receive a salary increase of $5,000, according to the contract.

Woodruff was manager of Camden County in the northeastern part of the state — about 40 miles west of the Outer Banks — for some eight years before accepting the Beaufort County post.

Although Camden County’s population is about one fourth that of Beaufort County’s Woodruff sees similarities between the two coastal communities.

Because of Camden County’s small population and its proximity to larger population centers, Woodruff pushed for county leaders to work in collaboration with other governmental entities — even those in neighboring Virginia.

Among Camden County’s successful joint projects cited by Woodruff are a regional three-county jail with Pasquotank and Perquimans counties, a regional emergency-management services program with Pasquotank County and participation with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

Although he has not yet had time to develop specific projects, Woodruff said it will be important for Beaufort County to do the same —seeking ways the county can work cooperatively with Washington and other municipalities.

“I’m interested in having more collaboration,” he said. “It’s important to look for cost savings to create efficiencies.”

“Efficiency is really important,” he said. “Surely by now, the majority of people realize the recovery is going to be long. We have no choice but to regroup and look for more efficient ways of doing things.”

One of Woodruff’s major goals will be to continue to improve the county’s finances and build county savings, while avoiding a tax increase.

“I want to try to make sure we operate with good financial resources … and grow the fund balance without any tax increases.”

Some people have mentioned to Woodruff the need for a new county jail, he said, but with the continued economic downturn, the county will have to “move gradually” on the project.

“As the economy improves, it will probably move to the front burner,” he said.

Woodruff also said he would work to ensure continued transparency in county government operations so the county’s residents would “understand and trust us.”

“Even when people don’t agree with you, they like to know what’s going on,” he said.

Woodruff also said he is comfortable taking direction from the seven leaders who are ultimately responsible for the county.

As county managers, Woodruff said, “our job is to recommend, and it’s not always going to be done the way you recommend it to be done. They are the elected officials. They are running the show, and I work for them.”