‘Joe the planner’ named Main Street Champion, joins LandTrust
SALISBURY — His official title is director of Community Planning Services.
But in Salisbury, Joe Morris is known simply as “Joe the planner.”
So went the introduction to a video tribute for Morris on Thursday night at the Meroney Theater during the N.C. Main Street Conference award ceremony.
The statewide organization named Morris one of 31 Main Street Champions for 2012, one of the highest honors given in downtown revitalization.
It was a fitting end to a 35-year career in local government, including 26 years for the city of Salisbury.
Morris, 54, retired from the city Thursday and began his new job today as development director for the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, where he has volunteered for many years.
“Joe has just been so outstanding and instrumental in Salisbury,” City Manager Doug Paris said. “We are definitely going to miss his leadership. But he has left an incredibly strong team.”
City planner Janet Gapen will serve as interim director of Community Planning Services while Paris decides what to do about a permanent position, he said.
Morris joined the city in 1987 as an arborist and landscaping manager. He went back to school and earned a planning degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and became Salisbury’s planning director in 2003.
Morris has had a hand in every design and planning project in Salisbury for the past quarter-century: Flowers Bakery redevelopment, East Fisher entertainment district, Eastern Gateway bridge and median project, West End Transformation Plan, Downtown Salisbury Master Plan, Land Development Ordinance and the Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan, just to name a few.
The American Planning Association named downtown Salisbury one of the country’s 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2012, another feather in Morris’ cap.
“I’ve always felt like Joe was the city’s project manager,” Mayor Paul Woodson said. “He handled all the special projects, all the studies, and always remained calm. He never got upset. He just did a lot of the work that we needed done.
“He was the go-to guy.”With city purse strings tight, Morris often had to get creative to fund many of his projects. He said he plans to put those same skills to work for the LandTrust.
“This is an opportunity to take some of the skillset that I have acquired in this town over last 26 years to a larger audience and broader region,” Morris said.
The LandTrust serves 10 counties, and the organization wants to expand fundraising and focus on long-term sustainability, said Jason Walser, executive director.
“Joe’s planning background will help us bring strategic direction and initiative to our development and fundraising program, enabling us to broaden our fundraising efforts throughout our 10-county service region and emphasize long-term initiatives such as planned giving and major donor programs,” Walser said in a statement.
During the interview process, Morris impressed LandTrust officials with his strategies for fundraising, Walser said.
Morris replaces Barbara Lawther, who is now working for the Rowan Museum.
Morris said he plans to reach out to former colleagues in local government, meeting with every county manager, planning director and parks and recreation director in the 10-county area to see how the LandTrust can help with land conservation.
In return for assistance, Morris said he hopes the counties and cities will remember the LandTrust at budget time.
Morris, who grew up in Rockingham, said he knows someone in every county, city and town in the LandTrust’s region.
“I feel like I will have a good base for a network upon which to build as we are developing this program,” he said.
Morris said he feels gratitude, not sadness, about leaving the city of Salisbury.
“I feel like I was part of a group of people that did a lot of good in this town for the past 25 years, and I am so indebted to people like Jim Hurley, Margaret Kluttz, Jim Dunn and Dave Treme, who all have been so generous to me,” Morris said.
“They kind of handed me the keys to a whole new career that I would not have unless I had been in this town and exposed to the philanthropy and sense of purpose that so many people in this city possess.”Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.