Worth the wait

Canton acts quickly, naming Jason Burrell town manager at Thursday's meeting
Apr 14, 2017
Photo by: Kyle Perrotti Burrell will step into the town manager role on may 13.

CANTON — Jason Burrell will be Canton's new town manager.

Thursday night, the board of aldermen voted to promote Burrell, effective May 13, pending negotiations of his employment contract.

Burrell, a Western Carolina graduate, has served in a number of capacities for the town, including assistant town manager, over the last seven years. He was in the running for town manager last time the position was open, but was ultimately skipped over when the town brought in current Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss.

The right person for the job

Burrell said that he is confident that he will be able to step into the role and keep working with Canton’s best interest at heart.

“I put a lot of stock and a lot of heart into this town,” he said. “I love the people here and the community, and I want to see it continue to progress and grow.”

The board of aldermen agreed decided unanimously that Burrell is the man for the job. Mayor Mike Ray, who only votes in the event of a tie, said he agrees with the board’s decision.

“He’s very knowledgeable and has the town’s best interest at heart,” Ray said. “He works very well with the community and town employees.”

Alderman Zeb Smathers said while he knows Burrell’s has a “laser-focused economic development,” plan, he also thinks the experienced administrator’s commitment to Canton goes far deeper. Last Thanksgiving, Canton suffered multiple water line ruptures which led to serious secondary issues, including pump failure. Although he had no duty to do so, Burrell worked side-by-side with town employees, not stopping until the problem was solved three days later. Smathers described the whole ordeal as “a perfect storm of logistical issues.”

“Jason was right there in the trenches, literally and figuratively,” Smathers said. “That’s all I needed.”

A surprising resignation

Hendler-Voss announced last month — much to the surprise of the board — that he would resign to become the Director of Parks and Recreation in Prince William County near Washington, D.C., where he will manage 500 employees and $35 million budget.

“It will give me the opportunity to lead one of the leading parks and rec programs in the country,” he said.

Although most on the board sensed that Hendler-Voss was eventually going to move on, they said they are still sad to see him go so soon, especially considering the impact he has had on the community.

“I’m very proud of our many accomplishments with Seth,” Alderman Ralph Hamlett said.

And some Canton residents at the meeting agreed that Hendler-Voss’s will be a bittersweet departure.

“I want to express sadness and appreciation for our town manager,” local pastor Ted Voss told the board. “I’m just hoping that the momentum will continue.”

Why wait?

The vote to promote Burrell came after a 45-minute closed session. Although the closed session ran longer than anticipated and Burrell was called into the room and subsequently dismissed on two occasions, the decision to promote him was unanimous.

Following the vote, Hendler-Voss had some kind words for his successor.

“He could have walked away, he could have held a grudge,” he said. “But he did what he said he would do and supported me every step of the way.”

The decision to promote Burrell — although given much thought and even a rigorous course of debate — comes in contrast to the last search for a town manager, a marathon process which ended with three candidates, including Burrell, as finalists.

“The lack of action from that board just showed a lack of direction and that might be part of the reason this board acted fast,” Hamlett said. “When you know you’ve got a proven leader, why wait?”

“This is the right thing to do at this juncture with the pool and all the other things on our plate,” Alderwoman Gail Mull said. “It would have been detrimental to drag it out, and I think we would have come to the same conclusion anyway.”

Although going into the meeting, many thought the decision might be delayed anywhere from two to four weeks, the board came together and explored all potential hurdles, including legal issues, and determined their decision was in accordance with the law.

“It would have been fine with me either way,” Alderwoman Carole Edwards, who said she whole-heartedly supports Burrell. “I would have been fine with making the decision then or two weeks later.”

One minute concern was the fact that Burrell and his wife currently live in nearby Candler. But Burrell said he is ready to pack up and move to Papertown.

“We’re just getting a feel for everything and seeing what’s out there,” he said, adding that houses in Canton are often being snatched up as soon as they reach the market.

The transition

Hendler-Voss said that in the month or so before his successor transitions into the town manager role, he plans on working side-by-side with Burrell to ensure the new budget is on the best path possible, but acknowledged even before the closed session that Burrell will have to pick up the torch.

“He will be taking it to the finish line after I am gone,” Hendler-Voss said. “But I’ll be working all the way up to the 11th to nail down a budget as tight as possible.”

Burrell said he feels confident regarding the budget.

“I’ve done a ton of budgets in the past,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s like riding a bicycle.”

And that won’t be the only task that will fall into Burrell’s hands, considering how many projects the town has in the works right now. Edwards said she believes Burrell will handle all tasks — including the towns multi-million dollar pool project — in stride.

“He’s already been a part of past decisions and past projects we’ve been working on, so it will be a smooth transition,” she said.

Burrell said that while he is looking to continue working on some of Hendler-Voss’ high-priority projects such as the streetscape and some of the new recreation projects, his biggest focus will likely end up being improving the town’s aging infrastructure.

Smathers said he is thrilled to have already taken care of naming a new town manager, and that since the decision was announced Thursday night, he has received nothing but positive feedback from the public.

“This sends a clear signal in our town, county and region that we will remain strong,” he said. “We will not skip a beat in maintaining our momentum.”

Burrell said he is looking forward on continuing to build upon that momentum while continuing to raise the town’s trajectory.

“We’ve accomplished a lot as a town and staff and board,” he said. “The sky’s the limit as to what we can continue to accomplish.”