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Editorial: County manager: Experience should help

When Gary Page begins his tenure as Rowan’s new county manager next month, he should feel right at home in many ways. Sure, some things will be different ó a bigger budget, larger bureaucracy, flatter terrain and no MerleFest. But others should be downright deja vu-ish to the man who spent the past 12 years as manager of Wilkes County.
For instance, Rowan County is currently struggling with an overcrowded jail and debating plans for a new detention center, and possibly a new location for the Sheriff’s Office. In Wilkes, jail overcrowding and outdated facilities recently spurred commissioners to move forward with plans for a new county jail and law-enforcement center, along with a new EMS center.
You can also see similarities in the perpetual need for new schools ó and the perpetual search for ways to pay for them. Page’s resume notes that, since the year 2000, he facilitated the financing (through Certificates of Participation) for construction of four new middle schools in Wilkes and the renovation of four high schools. That experience should certainly come in handy considering Rowan’s nonstop education needs.
In Wilkes, as in Rowan, economic development and job creation are a constant concern ó and officials in both counties see the local airport as a corporate drawing card. In 2000, Page helped oversee runway and taxiway extensions that expanded the Wilkes County Airport’s clientele and marketing potential, just as officials hope to do with the airport here. And having lived with the ups and downs of Tyson, Wilkes’ largest employer ó which just announced the shutdown of a 400-worker plant ó Page should be a quick study in learning how Rowan’s economy follows the fortunes of employers like Freightliner, where another wave of layoffs is about to begin.
Page obviously is well acquainted with the challenges that lie before him and the county. Thursday’s unanimous vote to bring him aboard indicates commissioners are confident he has the ability to step into the role vacated by Jim Cowan, who moved on after two years in which the county benefited from his steady hand and organizational skills. Ideally, the process of hiring a new manager would be more transparent, with the commission revealing its top candidates and offering more public discussion about its search process, rather than simply unveiling its decision with a quick vote. But the reality is that job searches for a county manager, school superintendent or other high-profile position too often take place out of the public view, even though public services and tax money are at stake. From the vantage point of those doing the searches ó and often, the candidates themselves ó confidentiality is essential to the process, at least until the contract is signed, but it still distances the public from decisions in which it has a high interest.
That’s no criticism of this choice, by any means. We’ll trust that commissioners have performed their due diligence and that, as their votes and laudatory comments suggest, they found the best possible candidate for this critically important post.
Welcome to Rowan, Mr. Page. We can second Commission Chairman Arnold Chamberlain’s fervently voiced hope that this will prove a mutually agreeable and long-lasting relationship.

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