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Interim leader arrives

AHOSKIE – Hal Mason is bringing 40 years of experience in municipal government to town.

And Ahoskie is glad to have him.

Mason arrived in town for his first visit late last week. He took a tour of the town with Mayor Jimmie Rowe earlier in the day.  Mason then met with Town Council members Linda Blackburn, Mayor Pro Tem Rev. C. David Stackhouse, Charles Freeman, and Charles Reynolds; Town

Attorney W. H. “Buddy” Jones; Town Clerk Joleatha Chestnutt; and some of the department heads at the Ahoskie Fire Station for the continuation of the April 11 Council meeting, which had been recessed last Tuesday.

Mason will begin his new duties in Ahoskie tomorrow (Wednesday).

The Town Council voted unanimously back in March to contract with Mason, a retiree currently making his home in Garner, and who has experience with longtime service in municipal government in North and South Carolina.

Mason, now retired, previously served as city administrator of Hanahan, S.C., near Charleston. He worked for the town of Shelby, in Cleveland County, for 26 years, serving as the city manager there for seven years before taking the Hanahan job. More recently, he was appointed the first town administrator of James Island, S.C., also near Charleston, in 2011.  In 2016, he was acting town manager in Knightdale, near Raleigh, then left for a brief time before assuming the interim duties last summer.

“I’ve worked through the Local Government Commission – basically, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and this is about my fifth or sixth community I’ve worked with since I retired,” Mason said. “I enjoy it, everything’s a little bit different but also, everything’s also very much the same.”

Mason has a BA degree in Economics from UNC-Asheville, and received his Master of Urban Affairs (MUA) from Virginia Tech.  He also holds a certificate in Economic Development from the University of Oklahoma.  He holds life memberships in the International City/County Management Association (ICMA); the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), and Community Economic Development (CED).  Mason has also been a leader in the National Main Street Program.

“Working in Knightdale, it’s in the Raleigh metro area with all its commercial development and things like that,” he continued. “I also worked in Whiteville (Columbus County) which is more comparable because it’s in a rural setting much like Ahoskie, and they’re experiencing some of the some problems they’re experiencing here.”

Mason says he prefers to work two days a week in Ahoskie, as needed, preferably Wednesdays and Thursdays; driving down from his Wake County home to handle town business here.  Chestnutt says that’s a normal schedule for an interim manager.  He acknowledged he will sometimes work 16-18 hours a week, depending on the necessity.  He also said he would adjust for the regularly scheduled Tuesday Town Council meetings.

“With the Council meetings, that schedule will deviate a little,” Mason noted. “What I would propose is if I need to change the schedule a bit I would be in touch with the Mayor or the Town Clerk to make that change.”

Councilman Charles Freeman asked if Mason could be available for the Council’s budget workshop that will be held April 28 and the interim manager said that would be no problem.

“I’ll be here the 26th and 27th anyway, so I’ll just spend an extra night,” he maintained.

Mason said he was moderately, though not thoroughly, familiar with Ahoskie’s 2015-16 audit report of the town budget from January showing the unassigned General Fund was minus $26,008; this after the 2014-15 audit showed the General Fund was in the black to the tune of $1,008,379.

Former Town Manager Tony Hammond asked city department heads to review their current budgets and each make recommendations of a 10 percent cut, after which he and town Finance Officer, Patricia Bradley, found more cuts in an effort to bring the budget in line.

The Town Council then passed three budget amendments in March that would decrease both the town’s revenues and expenditures by roughly $850,000.

Mason said he had not seen the budget yet, but looked forward to his first review as well as meetings with department heads beginning this week.

“Everything will resolved,” he remarked. “State law mandates that you have a balanced budget and we will have a balanced budget.”

“My objective is to keep things on an even keel and making sure everything is happening like it should happen,” Mason said. “Secondly, is to get a new manager in place as soon as possible.”

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn said applications are still being received.

“If you’ve got good applicants, I would suggest you start interviewing people,” he said. “I’ll be happy to review resumes.”

Mason recommended the future manager be someone with a good financial background who has some experience working with small towns; preferably a manager or someone who’s worked closely with a manager.

“You’ve got to look for somebody who’s a good match for the community, for the Council, and for the staff,” Mason said.

The Council – though in an informal setting – did make a motion (Blackburn) for the review and authorization of the interim manager’s contract, which was seconded and passed unanimously.

Rowe informed Council that representatives from the state Treasurer’s office had been to town and discussed the town’s finances with him, the Town Clerk, and Finance Officer Patricia Bradley.

“I think they left satisfied,” the Mayor stated. “They think (Joleatha and Patricia) are doing their jobs well, that things are running smoothly, and that they would like to attend the town’s Council retreat later this month. We left it for them to come if they’d like.”

Mason said his Manager’s recommendation is that the Clerk and the Finance Officer review revenues and expenditures to make certain all is in order, and while the early stage review would be out of balance that it would be brought before Council on what to eliminate, defer, or use some other appropriate method for adding or deleting budget requests.

“There’d be a line of Manager’s recommendations, and another line of what Council approves,” he conceded. “It still has to be in balance.”

Mason said he would review the town’s budget calendar when he returns this week.

With discussion ended, the Council meeting was adjourned.