Wilkes County manager heading south to lead Rowan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
County commissioners have picked a new county manager who has 25 years of experience as manager in both North and South Carolina.
Gary Page, now the manager of Wilkes County, will begin work here on May 12.
Page has served as county manager in Wilkes for 12 years.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners took less than five minutes Thursday afternoon to unanimously approve a contract that makes the 53-year-old Page the county’s fourth manager.
“I’m happy, I’m pleased, I’m relieved,” said Chairman Arnold Chamberlain once the vote was taken.
Page will receive an annual salary of $130,515 and an in-county travel allowance of $350 a month. He will also be reimbursed up to $1,000 for moving expenses.
Commissioners launched their search for a manager in January after the resignation of Bill Cowan. Commissioners went through dozens of applications before conducting interviews.
Page emerged during the interview process, impressing commissioners with his experience and command of the issues.
Although the current board has been split on many key issues, Page quickly rose to the top, becoming the No. 1 choice of all commissioners.
Following the brief meeting, Commissioners Jim Sides and Jon Barger agreed that Page is the man Rowan County needs.
Page and his wife, Julie, met with commissioners.
Sides said Page has the experience that’s needed, adding that he brings a low-key style of leadership. Sides said Page will follow the board, not lead the board.
Barber said Page has the experience the county needs now and in the future to meet the challenges that are coming.
Barber added that he believes Page won’t be afraid to “take the board to the edge and challenge us a little bit.”
In his resume, Page cited his objective: “To serve as a professional manager in a progressive 100,000 -plus population county.”
Once the contract was signed Thursday afternoon, Page talked about the enticement of managing a bigger county.
“Managers look for challenges,” Page said.
Page has held the Wilkes County post since 1996, serving longer than many of his predecessors.
The largest county in land mass in North Carolina, it’s known as the Great State of Wilkes. The Yadkin River originates in Wilkes, which is perhaps still best known as the “Moonshine Capital of America,” a title given it in a Saturday Evening Post story from the 1950s.
Page said he will give the Wilkes Board of Commissioners the required 30-days notice and take an extra week for moving.
Page got his first assignment. Chamberlain gave him the form for the required drug test.
Leslie Heidrick, finance director, will continue serving as interim county manager until Page takes over.
Minutes after signing the contract, Chamberlain took Page on a tour of his soon-to-be office and introduced him to other county employees in the County Administrative Offices Building.
County Attorney Jay Dees had worked on negotiating the contract for nearly two weeks.
The final version was approved without questions or comment.
Page’s $130,515 salary, benefits and extras will be less than the two prior managers, Bill Cowan and Tim Russell.
Cowan, who left on Dec. 31 to head up a resort development in Pinehurst, received an annual base salary of $151,500.
Either the county or Page can terminate the contract with 30 days notice.
During the first three years, if the county terminates Page for any reason other than a felony conviction, the county would pay six months in salary and benefits.
After three years, the county would provide 90 days of salary and benefits.
After five years of employment with Rowan County, Page will also be eligible to receive the county employee retiree health insurance.
A 1979 graduate of Appalachian State University, Page first worked as town manager of Yadkinville.
From 1983 to 1988, he served as administrator for Laurens County, S.C., which included serving as budget officer, personnel director and purchasing agent.
From 1988 to 1992, he served as Stokes’ County’s manager, budget officer and personnel director.
Continuing his move to larger counties, Page served as manager of Stanly County from 1992 to 1994.
He moved east in 1994 to become manager in Carteret County, where he also served as budget officer and purchasing director.
And in 1996 he moved to Wilkes to serve as manager, budget officer and personnel director.Wilkes has 415 full-time employees. Rowan has about 750.
Page’s tenure in Wilkes has included construction of new schools, managing expansion of the landfill, a new courthouse and improvements to the county airport. The county is currently in the design phase for a new 300-bed county jail.