By Mark Wineka
Matt Bernhardt, who headed the city of Salisbury’s biggest department, has resigned.
The resignation, effective Feb. 29, followed a brief leave.
City Manager David Treme would not elaborate on why Bernhardt was placed on administrative leave, but Treme had high praise Thursday for Bernhardt, assistant city manager for utilities.
Treme said Bernhardt, a former administrator in both Mount Airy and Troy, is interested in pursuing other opportunities in the public or private sectors.
“He’s a very talented individual,” Treme said. “… I support and understand his decision.”
Bernhardt turned in a letter of resignation on Feb. 18, and was on leave before and after that date.
Bernhardt said Thursday he was proud of what Salisbury-Rowan Utilities had achieved during his seven years with the department. He added that he was leaving with a clean record, a positive reference and a good feeling toward the city.
He wants to stay in the region and close to family, Bernhardt said.
“It was an amicable parting” Bernhardt added. He also declined to say more about why he went on paid administrative leave before the resignation.
It was “successfully resolved,” he said.
Jim Behmer has been named interim director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.
Major things on the drawing board at present are a city-county extension of sewer down the Interstate 85 corridor and planning for utility service to a proposed annexation area along N.C. 150.
Treme described Bernhardt as a highly motivated, results-oriented manager who made major contributions to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.
Bernhardt took over leadership of the utility when it was suffering from the loss of its biggest water customers, including Cone Mills, because of plant closings, Treme noted.
The utility ó a $20 million business ó once faced a $2 million revenue shortfall. Now it’s running in the black, Bernhardt said.
Treme praised Bernhardt’s recent work in protecting Salisbury’s water interests during the federal relicensing process connected to Alcoa’s Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.
Over the past seven years, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities has expanded dramatically into a system serving close to 45,000 people in Rowan County.
The expansion has included Salisbury’s taking over the utility systems in Spencer, Rockwell and Granite Quarry: the management of East Spencer’s utility system; line extensions to supply water to China Grove, Landis and Kannapolis; making an emergency water line connection to Statesville; doubling the capacity of the city’s water treatment plant; overseeing multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city’s two wastewater treatment plants; and running major utility lines to businesses, developments and newly annexed areas.
Bernhardt also has faced the challenges of two droughts.
“After a number of challenging years with the city, I felt it was time for a change,” he said.
Bernhardt gave credit for the utility’s accomplishments to “a great staff, a great bunch of people.”
Treme said Bernhardt is a problem-solver looking for leadership opportunities.
Some observers thought Bernhardt may have been a possible successor to Treme whenever he moved on or retired.
Treme said Bernhardt has executive level management, strategic planning and policy skills.
A Salisbury native, Bernhardt joined the city in early 2001 as assistant utilities director and was promoted in October 2002 to assistant city manager for utilities.
Prior to joining Salisbury, he had been city manager for Mount Airy for three years and town manager for Troy for nine years.
His involvement in a major utility system expansion in Mount Airy and in upgrades to Troy’s utilities helped him land the position in Salisbury.
Bernhardt is a 1982 graduate of Salisbury High and 1986 graduate of Appalachian State University, where he majored in criminal justice.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka