Spruill celebrated for patience, listening

Published 12:20 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

Paul Spruill resigning from his position as Beaufort County manager comes in as the No. 6 story for 2011 in the Washington Daily News’ coverage area.

Spruill left that position this past summer — 16 days shy of eight years on the job — to become CEO of Tideland Electric Membership Corp. based in Pantego.

During his tenure as county manager, Spruill helped lead the effort to prevent the Navy from building an outlying landing field in the area. That effort was successful.

Spruill faced other challenges as county manager.

In 2004, the county was forced to close its construction and demolition debris landfill after it was found to be out of compliance with governmental regulations. In 2006, the county was faced with a lawsuit by the former Beaufort County Board of Education over school funding.

Shortly after that, Beaufort and other northeastern North Carolina counties took issue with stormwater rules proposed by the state’s Environmental Management Commission. Ultimately, that opposition led to a rewrite of the proposed rules.

When people learned Spruill was leaving county government, they talked about his patience and ability to listen.

Spruill himself acknowledged he was not the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners’ first choice for the job as county manager. When he got the job, he was determined to prove himself.

“As you know, I did not vote to hire Paul, but I voted to keep him,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson in an interview this past spring. “I’m sorry to see him leave. He has restored a lot of confidence in county government.”

A native of Bertie County, Spruill came to Beaufort County from Chatham County, where he served as assistant county manager from 2000 to 2003. Before that, he worked as Grifton’s town administrator, where he helped the community recover from the effects of Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

As county manager, Spruill supervised a general-fund budget of approximately $50 million and about 288 full-time employees along with a countywide water-enterprise budget of approximately $5 million annually with 25 full-time employees.

Spruill said his worst mistake in his eight years as county manager was his underestimation of the effects of the collapse in 2008 of Wall Street and its investment banking firms on the state and Beaufort County economies.

“In March 2009, we saw sales tax receipts in the state and North Carolina counties in general fall off a cliff,” he said in an interview this summer. The effects of the economic downturn on these sales tax receipts “was unprecedented in this state’s history,” he said.

“We very quickly had to adjust to the correction in our revenue,” he said.

In June 2009, those adjustments included dramatic cost-cutting measures and layoffs of some county employees.

“I will never forget the degree to which I underestimated the impact of the correction in our revenues sources on the county,” he said. “That is the item that I am the least proud of in my service.”

Contributing Writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this article.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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