By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — In a rapid rise from city intern to city manager, Douglas T. Paris Jr. will become the youngest chief executive in the state for a city Salisbury’s size when he is sworn in March 20.
The N.C. League of Municipalities said Paris, 28, will be the youngest manager currently serving a North Carolina city of 33,000 residents or more.
But Paris’ youthfulness and relative lack of experience — he’s never been a city manager and has served as Salisbury’s interim for seven months — did not prevent Ellis Hankins, executive director for the league, from praising the unanimous choice of Salisbury City Council.
“Clearly, he’s mature beyond his years,” Hankin said.
Paris has a “strong set of values,” Hankin said. “You learn that quickly in talking to him.”
Well-coached by mentor David Treme, the former city manager, Paris has proven he is a good manager and “a thinker,” Hankin said.
Treme served for more than 26 years and retired Aug. 1. Paris beat out 70 applicants for the job.
“He has some big shoes to fill,” Rowan County Manager Gary Page said. “I wish him success and luck.”
The relationship between Page and Paris hit a rough patch last fall during a disagreement about consolidating the city and county’s 911 call centers. They apologized Monday during a luncheon for city and county elected officials, and Page said they have a new understanding.
“I think he understands where we’re coming from, and I understand he’s got a lot on his plate with the new budget and Fibrant,” Page said.
The two leaders see each other at least once a week now, he said.
“Hopefully, that will make this better from this point forward,” Page said.
Treme hired Paris in 2006 as a summer intern, then brought him on staff in 2007 as the city’s first assistant to the city manager. He was promoted in 2010 to assistant city manager.
Paris never failed to complete an assignment, Treme said.
“I challenged him with larger and larger tasks, and I never saw that there was anything he was not able to do,” Treme said. “He always met the challenge.”
Paris has a “real feel” for the culture of the city, including Salisbury’s emphasis on customer service, goal setting and servant leadership, Treme said.
Perhaps most importantly for City Council, Paris has a thorough understanding of Fibrant, the city’s new fiber-to-the-home broadband utility, Treme said.
“I feel like he will probably make his biggest and best contributions in making that a successful enterprise for the city,” said Treme, one of Fibrant’s creators.
Behind on revenue and subscriber projections, Fibrant has shown improvement during Paris’ time as interim city manager. The utility needs to grow from 1,700 to 4,500 customers by 2014.
“It will be extremely challenging and difficult, but (Paris) has got what it takes to get it done,” Treme said.
During the interview process, Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said he compared all other candidates to Paris.
“Many had experience, but to me Doug has the energy and is a visionary,” Kennedy said.
Some people have criticized the city for spending $15,700 to hire a search firm when their top candidate was already here. But council member Maggie Blackwell said the decision was too important not to do an exhaustive search.
“We were not trying to waste money,” Mayor Paul Woodson said. “But we had to see who else was out there.”
The lengthy and thorough search process allowed council members to see how Paris stacked up, Councilman Brian Miller said.
Treme called Paris an “outstanding strategist” and said once the council sets goals and objectives, Paris will find a way to accomplish them.
“He’s very engaging and questioning,” Treme said. “He doesn’t accept information on face value.”
During his work for the city, Paris has spent extensive time in Raleigh advocating for the city on legislative issues ranging from water rights to the ABC system to high-speed broadband.
He understands the legislative process and the impact state laws can have at the local level, Treme said.
Since retiring, Treme said he has seen Paris make difficult decisions and show City Council he can lead the city.
“I hired him. I thought he was the best of the best,” Treme said. “I knew that he would be a city manager one day and maybe even in Salisbury.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
By Emily Ford