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Greenwood’s slow exit gives Macon leaders rare chance

When Macon County Manager Sam Greenwood retires at the end of this year, he’ll take with him more than three decades of governmental experience and an encyclopedic understanding of the county’s political scene.


Macon County commissioners are likely to find it difficult to fill the position: Government experts say the pool of qualified and interested candidates available is the shallowest ever.

“We have many managers in North Carolina who have 15 to 20 years who are also preparing to retire,” said Todd McGee, spokesman for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. “There’s going to be a dearth in experience.”

The situation in North Carolina mirrors a nationwide trend in the local government profession, according to the International City/County Management Association. The Washington-based support group for city and county leaders describes the profession as at a crossroads, with baby boomers getting out and few younger professionals willing to take their place.


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A strong leader

Articulate, forceful and at times, brash, 58-year-old Greenwood is Texas born but rooted through generations of Macon County ancestors to Western North Carolina.

Greenwood’ s management style is unique. He loathes meetings as killers of time and individual initiative, so he keeps staff gatherings to a minimum — one each year. That single meeting is to ensure the county’s department heads are ready for the annual budget process.

Greenwood has worked in Macon County for a total of 17 years. His tenure was interrupted by a stint as Aberdeen’s town manager. He served as Macon’s manager from 1979 to 1985, and returned in 1996 as a self-described government “free-lancer” before again assuming the county’s top paid position.

“A manager should serve as a strong adviser to the board, though that’s an old-fashioned view,” Greenwood said. “And, at times when necessary, guide them.”


Style has detractors

Some Macon County residents believe Greenwood’s “guidance” actually amounts to political advocacy. His critics hope county commissioners pick a radically different county manager this time around.

“We need someone who doesn’t take sides,” said Robert Smith, who lives with his wife, Joyce, in the Rolling Acres neighborhood. “I think the next county manager ought to be a younger man, a well-educated man and a man who works for the people.”

Greenwood acknowledged that some Macon County residents think he meddles in politics. But he sees it differently. The county manager must sometimes speak out, Greenwood said, because the position provides the only continuity available as board members come and go at the will of voters.

“The county manager has a seat at the table and has a voice that should be considered,” said Brian McClellan, a newly elected Macon commissioner. “I certainly have no problem with a county manager who is a strong leader.”


Stepping down in December

McClellan said Greenwood’s slow exit into retirement is a blessing for the county board. It provides time, he said, to find a progressive thinker who doesn’t need on-the-job training — and who wants to stay in Macon County for a while.

“The national shortage makes it even more critical that we do our homework,” McClellan said.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale said he wants Macon County to find a top-notch professional to fill the post.

Beale said he’ll be looking for someone, like Greenwood, who knows how to build a budget, is well-versed in the many areas that make up county government and who can work with the county’s employees.

Greenwood plans to submit his formal retirement notice during the board’s July work session. He hopes to retire Dec. 31, giving commissioners ample time, he said, to figure out what type of manager they really do want and find the perfect candidate to fill his role.

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