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Team players

First of two parts

WINDSOR – They’re all first-termers.

None of the current members of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners has served longer than two-and-a-years.

“I don’t know of another county in the state that has that,” said Chairman Ronald “Ron” Wesson.

Wesson and fellow commissioner John Trent were sworn in office in December 2012, while Tammy Lee, Stewart White, and Ernestine (Byrd) Bazemore took their oaths at the same time in 2014.

Wesson has spent the last two weeks conducting interviews on the recent efforts of the Bertie Commissioners.  He particularly emphasized the team efforts the group has used in accomplishing programs and services for the county during their brief tenure.  He credits their beginning when they met with the Local Government Commission; not just those newly sworn in, but the entire five-member Board and County Manager Scott Sauer as helping them foster the team concept.

“We went as a team because we wanted to learn as a team and we wanted time to discuss the process of how we were going to be a team and govern by consensus,” Wesson said. “We set a standard, it got us off real strong together, and now other counties are following that, bringing their whole Board to training.”

Wesson says the Commissioners work collectively and everyone has an equal voice in setting priorities, communicating their message to the public as well as interacting with each other, striving for transparency, insuring a critical examination of all the county’s programs and services, and being good stewards of the county’s resources: financial and physical.

The chairman also said there have been few, if any, “hot-button” issues for the Board to settle early on.

“The trash was a pretty hot one, whether to do curbside or keep the convenience sites,” Wesson relates.  “A lot of folks didn’t understand that we never took a vote, we just looked at the possibilities and held two community forums.  This board came in on the second one with fresh ideas.

“I was on the other side and thought (curbside) would be great for the county and give us the best deal in the state, but it doesn’t matter what one person wants,” he continued.  “We heard from the folks and decided to put it to rest.  After deciding the folks wanted the centers, we said let’s go out and get the best deal we can get; so we went out and did a deal that saved (the county) half a million dollars over ten years.  Not only did we listen to them, we got the best possible deal.  Everybody won.”

Wesson says all five commissioners come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives.

“I didn’t know the new members (Lee, Bazemore, and White) as well as I do now,” Wesson stated. “They all have different perspectives because they represent different segments of the community and there’s some real balance.  Not all our votes have been unanimous, and that’s okay because what we end up with sometimes is a consensus we arrive at because everybody weighs in on what the motion should look like.”

Wesson credits Sauer, who has served several administrations during his career, along with County Attorney Lloyd Smith (in his appointed position for 32 years) and their experience and knowledge as invaluable with helping this Board’s learning curve.

“When we were doing this SBA loan to consolidate all the county’s water systems, an 80-page application, Scott and Lloyd have done these things a zillion times,” the chairman observed. “They (SBA) were not just impressed; they wished everybody could do and understand their applications like (Bertie) had done.  Without those two it would have been a lot more difficult.”

Wesson said in the next few weeks people will see how the Commissioners have addressed some of the infrastructure needs in the county.

“We’ve done some internal stuff with the County Courthouse, but now people are going to see the physical part on the outside,” he said. “There’s also the work done on the county’s Cooperative Extension offices and the relocation of the Sheriff’s office and county Communications Center to the former Bertie County Schools administration facility.  And we’ve done all this within the budget, without new money.”

Wesson says the Board is also proud of its investment in the county’s ‘human capital’.

“We were able to give county employees an across the board three percent raise, and establish a 401(k) supplemental retirement benefit,” he reported. “A lot of counties don’t have 401(k)’s but cities, like Ahoskie, do; but not a lot of counties because they have to try to find a way to pay for it.

“We’ve managed the (county) budget really tight over the last two-plus years and put in a two percent yearly contribution – it’s not a lot – but it’s a retirement plan outside of the regular county retirement,” Wesson said.

Beginning July 1, all county staff is provided access to an employee assistance program with counseling support for employees, spouses and dependents to assist families who might be struggling with financial planning, family relations issues or substance and alcohol abuse.

“They can get independent advice and be directed where to receive additional support and counseling,” he said.

Wesson says his two-plus year odyssey has been a learning process.

“I have one vote just like everybody else,” he said. “I thank them for the honor of being elected chairman because it’s a management-leadership job.  I lean on them as much as they lean on me.

“You don’t win every battle and you can’t please everybody,” he said in closing. “If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say you’ve done your best, then that’s what the job is all about.”

Next installment: Chairman Wesson discusses the county’s business personal property tax and how the General Assembly’s proposed local option sales tax could affect Bertie County.