A loyal friend says farewell
Published 9:53 am Monday, June 24, 2013
JACKSON – Most who are familiar with Wayne Jenkins know that his ties to Northampton County are strong.
This week, Northampton County will say goodbye to one of its biggest advocates. Jenkins is retiring after 31 years of serving county government in different capacities. His last working day is June 27.
Although his time in an official capacity will be drawing to a close, Jenkins insists his loyalty will always remain with his home of Northampton.
“This has been a part of my life for over 30 years and to think that when I go home on the 27th and get up on the 28th that I won’t think about the past 30 years—you just don’t walk away from that,” he said. “I do enjoy what I do and I do enjoy the people I work with.”
Deep roots, humble beginnings
Like many in Northampton, Jenkins grew up smelling the peanut dirt as farmers turned the dirt on a new crop.
He grew up on a little farm between the communities of Potecasi and Milwaukee. He is the son of the late L.C. Jenkins Jr., and Annie Vaughan Jenkins, who passed away a year ago.
“I grew up in a family of two siblings and a mom and dad that really loved us,” he said.
His father worked in a sawmill and his mother worked in a sewing factory.
“Times were very hard, but never ever was I home without love, not ever,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said those hard times during his younger years helped shaped the person he is today. Love, Christian values and hard work were the cornerstones that held the Jenkins family together.
One of the most influential people in Jenkins’ life was his mother.
“I never realized over the years she was teaching me until opportunities came along or situations developed and I reflect back on some of the guidance my mom gave to me,” he said.
Jenkins said one of the most important items of advice his mom gave him was, “your word is your bond.”
“She taught me kindness,” he said. “She taught me friends are special, family is special.”
He continued laughing, “And she taught me the Atlanta Braves are the best professional baseball team and the University of North Carolina was the best basketball team. My mom was a very special lady.”
A year after graduating from NorthamptonCountyHigh School, Jenkins entered the North Carolina Army National Guard.
“During that time I gained a lot of valuable knowledge and educational opportunities that helped in my service here in NorthamptonCounty,” he said. “It taught me discipline and structure, follow through in completing your mission and adversity in dealing and working with people.”
Jenkins received the North Carolina Army National Guard Solider of the Year Award (1983) and the Solider of the Year Award for B Company 119th Infantry Division (1984). He also received a Letter of Accommodation from Governor Hunt for a life saving effort of a county citizen.
A government accessible to all
Each morning before he heads to the office, Jenkins has breakfast with the “Table of Knowledge,” a group of men who gather at a local restaurant in Jackson.
“Over the years, I’ve gained a lot from those gentlemen,” he said.
In 1982, Jenkins started his career with the county when he was hired as the Emergency Management Coordinator and Water Supervisor.
“At the time I was hired NorthamptonCounty had a water system in the town of Lasker and they owned a water system between Woodland and Rich Square,” he said.
One year later, the two titles were separated after the then County Board of Commissioners decided to construct a county water system to combat private well contamination. Jenkins role became Water Supervisor. During his time in that position, the water department constructed Phase I, II and III of the water system.
In 1992, Jenkins was promoted to director of the newly organized Northampton County Public Works Department, which included the water and sewer division, solid waste and building and grounds. He was also responsible for the 911 address ordinance.
Jenkins was appointed Interim Manager and on May 1, 2001 he became CountyManager.
“Looking back on the past 30-plus years, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a lot of good things that the Board of Commissioners has been able to accomplish that have been able to improve the life of our citizens,” he said.
Some of the items Jenkins has been proud to be a part of includes growing the county water system.
“In 1982 (the system) had 100 customers, we now serve over 5,500 families and businesses with clean treated water,” he said. “We’ve also expanded our waste water collection system in many areas.”
In 1993, Jenkins helped the county began the first curbside solid waste collection service in the state
A new public works facility, restoring the Northampton County Courthouse back to its original condition, constructing the new Emergency Operations building and the Cultural and Wellness Center and recreation areas are also among the list of accomplishments for Jenkins.
“A special project for me was the Golden LEAF Community Assistance Initiative where we were fortunate enough to access some money and make an expansion to the Northampton Memorial Library and place green energy initiatives there,” he said. “That was an exciting project.”
Over the years Jenkins has worked with 15 county commissioners, three county managers all of whom he said he has learned from tremendously.
However, it’s Jenkins open door policy that he has become known for by county citizens over the years. He attributes that to working in service delivery departments before becoming county manager.
“I think government should be easily accessible to our citizens and I think we have a duty and an obligation to deliver government in as a customer friendly way we can,” he said.
He continued by saying, “I don’t know if it’s a desire to succeed or fear of failure, or if they’re connected. I have a strong principle and belief that if you are paid by the taxpayers then you have a duty and an obligation to give them a full day’s work and in that day’s work is where the desire to succeed and fear of failure is dominant.”
Jenkins said easy to tell someone “no” on the telephone but he believes there is nothing more important then one-on-one contact, building relationships, building partnerships and it is the most valuable type of communication.
As is expected in any type of government challenges have always come across Jenkins path, but he has always met them with motivation and a way to resolve them.
“I find a way to make something happen, to make something work rather than discarding it and saying, ‘it can’t happen that way’—there’s another way,” he said.
Jenkins’ position has often called for him to walk the precarious line between public service and politics. He said each of the commissioners he has worked with currently and in the past have brought something special to the county leadership team.
“I honestly can look back now and say that the deliberations, discussions and issues that I’ve been involved with the current board and previous boards of commissioners, at the end of the day the decision that was made is always in the best interest in the majority of the people in the county,” he said.
Jenkins said those that he has worked with on the board have allowed him to make recommendations, give input and suggestions.
“And sometimes the commissioners and I have had a difference of opinions about issues, but once the board made a decision that became my decision,” he said. “And I had no problem standing before the people of this county justifying and defending it.”
Jenkins said when those tough issues came up that connection and relationship with the community were vital.
“Politics in my world is what we’ve made them,” he said.
Jenkins said he doesn’t have any specific plans for retirement other than to spend more time with his family.
He said he wants to be there for his children, Bryan and Suzanne, and in particular his grandchildren, Kathryn, Luke and Greyson.
“I’ll have more opportunity to be involved with my grandkids,” he said.
Commissioners’ meetings and budget work sessions will be replaced with Grandparents Day, dance recitals and school athletic games on Jenkins’ calendar.
He said he also wants to spend time quality time with his wife, Donna.
“I want to make up for what she has had to sacrifice for all these years,” he said.
However, if the need arises Jenkins has told county department heads and the Board of Commissioners he’s just a phone call away.
Jenkins said he is a small part of a team that has moved the county forward and that team is still in place.
“I hope and pray that life is going to be better in the future for our citizens,” he said. “I have all the confidence in the world it will be.”