GATESVILLE – There were some that didn’t think Toby Chappell was ready, experience-wise, to move up the professional ladder as a County Manager.
After their meeting on Tuesday, it’s apparent that the overwhelming majority of the Greenwood County (S.C.) Council was not of that opinion.
By a 6-1 vote, Greenwood’s governing body offered a two-year contract (at $110,000 per year) to Chappell to become their next County Manager. Chappell, who has managed Gates County local government for the past four years, said he has accepted the offer.
“It’s a win-win situation, both personally and professionally,” Chappell said by telephone Tuesday night. “It’s like I said earlier this month when the news broke that I was among the final three candidates for the Greenwood job, this is so much more than a career move for financial gain. This move puts my wife only one hour away from her parents, which allows them to become a more viable part of the life of our four-month-old daughter. Family members play such an important role in the overall development of a young child.”
While he was pleased to have a chance to move forward professionally, Chappell said Tuesday’s news from Greenwood County was bittersweet.
“It’s tough to think about leaving Gates County; this is where my career as a county manager began and it’s a place that will forever hold a special place in my heart,” Chappell stressed. “(His wife) Caroline and I have built some good relationships here with the people of this county. They welcomed us in and made us feel at home and we thank them for that.”
As far as the timetable for Chappell’s departure, he said his Gates County contract called for 45 days after giving his resignation. He was expected to kick-in that clause of his contract by officially resigning on Wednesday during emergency meeting called by Gates County Commission Chairman Graham Twine.
“My contract here calls for 45 days upon resigning, or a lesser amount agreed to by both parties,” Chappell said. “If the commissioners opt for the full 45 days, I’ll honor that….it’s in my contract.”
Despite what some were saying about making the leap to a county six times larger than Gates, Chappell said he was ready for that challenge.
“There’s a misconception that a manager of a small county can’t make a jump to a larger county, that you have to methodically inch your way up the ladder,” Chappell stated. “I feel the exact opposite. I feel that the experience you gain at managing a small county is priceless, simply because you have to wear so many different hats due to an operating budget that limits the size of your staff.
“Here in Gates County, I’m the personnel director, the economic development director and handle most of the staff development,” he continued. “In Greenwood County they have staff to handle all those positions, but I can use the experience I gained here to help them build on what they’re already doing or observe they’re already doing it the right way. Sure, Greenwood is a bigger county with a larger staff of county employees. For me the job there becomes an issue of adjusting to scale and not one of lacking overall skill. It’s the same issues, just at a larger level.”
Even though Chappell was a “rookie” in county management when he arrived in Gatesville four years ago, he said he was proud of what has been accomplished in that short period of time.
“And let me stress right off the bat that this isn’t all about me; rather it’s about we….the manager, the commissioners, the staff and the citizens,” he noted. “What I’m most proud of is the stability we’ve been able to build. There were five managers in the three years before I got here in 2008. That is what leads to inconsistencies; different priorities that confuses the staff to the point where they’re overwhelmed. Now everyone is on the same page and heading in the same direction.”
The implementation of staff development also was at the top of Chappell’s list of accomplishments during his time in Gates County.
“We placed a big emphasis on continuing education; we now perform evaluations, to include what training they personally attended or their staff attended,” he said. “That expands the skill set of our employees, it makes them more valuable to us and to them personally. We’ve gone from having good employees to having great employees.”
Dealing with long-term issues was also successfully implemented during Chappell’s stay.
“We looking at the county’s future more aggressively….things like dealing with the sell of the old Sunbury School, addressing the issues of our historic courthouse and how to save that facility, and implementing a capital improvement plan for county buildings; they all are part of this county’s roadmap for the future,” he said.
He was also proud to say that Gates County is stronger financially than four years ago.
“And that fact includes going through a revaluation year and the great recession,” he noted. “This fact is less to do with me and more to do with our proactive commissioners as well as (county finance officer) Sandy Pittman. I would encourage the next county manager here to watch Sandy’s back because she’s watching the county’s back.”
Despite its controversial status, Chappell said he was proud to see the county moving forward to construct a new public library.
“Look at it long term….it’s a state-of-the-art facility that will last this county well into the future,” he stressed. “It will help educate our children and our adults, and helps small business grow and prosper. It’s the foundation of this county’s future.”
While he was excited over the personal and professional opportunities that await in South Carolina, Chappell said he was thankful of Gates County officials for giving him his first chance to manage at the local government level.
“I would love nothing more than to read or hear down the road that Gates County is continuing to grow and prosper under the leadership of its manager, board of commissioners and staff. I’m happy over what we’ve been able to accomplish here in my four years and I’m excited about the future of this county,” Chappell closed.
Chappell beat out two other finalists for the Greenwood County manager post: former Greenwood County manager Bob Haynie and current Kiawah Island (S.C.) town administrator Tumiko Rucker.
The position became open when Greenwood County manager Jim Kier resigned his full-time post June 30 and has been working part time while Council worked to find a new manager.
Greenwood County, with a population of 69,800, is located south of Spartanburg, SC and west of Columbia, SC.