The multitasking town manager

Published 12:10 am Friday, November 27, 2015

Larry Smith, town manager of Spencer, has become a skilled juggler. In one hand, he had the Wil-Cox Bridge development project and the Carolina Thread Trail, and in the other he had the Stanback Forest development and the Small Town Main Street Program. Up in the air were the bicycle and pedestrian project and the fund balance.

He never let a single ball hit the ground.

With only a few days until his resignation at the end of this month, Smith said he gained more experience working for Spencer than he might have working for another jurisdiction over the same amount of time just because of all of the different projects he had to learn to work on at once.

With great multitasking skills and an excellent staff behind him, Smith was able to get the job done.

Smith has been serving the town of Spencer since 2000 and became town manager in 2005.

Near the end of September, he told the town board members of his resignation on Nov. 30. It was formally discussed during a board meeting in October.

Smith said he kind of fell into his job as town manager. He completed his undergraduate degree at N.C. State University with a major in philosophy before joining the United States Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged from reserve in January of 2000.

Smith was working for the Department of Social Services when a land management job in Spencer opened up. When the town manager position was offered to him five years later, the town wanted him so bad they were willing to overlook one of the requirements for being Spencer’s town manager: living in Spencer.

Smith said it was the town of Spencer itself that convinced him to take the job. The potential and promise of the town drew him in.

“It’s really been great to see downtown and everything come into fruition over the past year,” he said.

When he first got to Spencer, the first thing he got in order was the fund balance, which was below the state peer group average.

“The first three or four years we really buckled down and got the fund balance in order and, in fact, it only took two fiscal years to actually get it to the state peer group average,” he said. “Now, the town’s in a much better position to move forward.”

From there, it was a non-stop train ride. Each new project led to another, so much so that Smith turned down other offers he received because he did not want to leave projects unfinished.

“You feel a sense of duty to make sure that plan is completed first,” he said.

Smith said being town manager and having to work on so many projects at once took multitasking to a whole other level.

There were so many master plans, Smith and his team had to write them out on posters that are currently hanging on the walls of the town hall’s meeting room.

Smith said the flow and momentum from one project to the other was so good, they had to take advantage of it while they could. There was just no good cut off place to concentrate on only a few projects — so they juggled 8 to 10 priorities at once.

“You clench down for a certain period of time. You ask the employees to dig in and you go full throttle,” he said. “And we’ve done that for probably the last three or four years of what you would normally do over a six month period or so.”

Almost all of those master plans are completed, including the Carolina Thread Trail, Small Town Main Street and Stanback Forest projects. The Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian plan will be completed next month.

“Between that and we’ve been very fortunate to hire the department heads we have, the employees we have, it’s stable,” Smith said.

Smith said having a good staff was the key to getting the work done.

“When you’re doing all these late-night meetings that sometimes when we were in the middle of projects went to 10 or 11 at night, you don’t want to spend that with people that are boring,” he said.

Smith said some of his favorite projects that he worked on were the Small Town Main Street Project, which works to revitalize the town’s downtown area, and the developments to Stanback Forest. The project he thinks will have a big impact on the town: the Wil-Cox Bridge, a connection for pedestrians and bicycles from the Yadkin River.

“That is the biggest thing that could happen to not just Spencer but Rowan County, economic-wise, tourism-wise,” he said.

Smith said the town’s future is now more organized and financially sound.

“The town has definitely gained an organizational component of taking all of the positive assets that we have been working on and having a pretty organized plan. And just like any strategic plan they say if you put them on the shelf then you just wasted all those years of doing it,” he said.

“Hopefully everything will continue going forward because right now the plans that are on the table really keep the town in excellent financial shape.”

Since his beginnings with the town in 2000, Smith said he has seen a steady progression of successes.

“We’ve just been buckled down for so long, it’s good to see these plans come to completion.”

Smith said he will take a couple weeks off before starting his new position, which he has decided not to reveal yet.

What he will say is that he appreciates all of the people he had the opportunity to work with and is excited to see how all of the projects develop in the future.

“I feel extremely honored and privileged to have served with the people I’ve served with,” he said. “That’s not just staff or board members, but the community.”

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.