Bryson City under new management
When Josh Ward was earning his bachelor’s degree in environmental health, he never thought it would lead him to running a small town government.
But as of last week, Ward, 36, found himself settling in to a desk at Bryson City Town Hall. Out of 25 applicants and extensive interviews, he was chosen to be the next town manager.
“A good manager is supposed to make sure the town is run efficiently and make sure the town is kept in good financial standing while still looking for grants and funds to assist in infrastructure, repairs, streetscapes and other projects,” Ward said of his new role.
Bryson City Alderman Rick Bryson said Ward knew the ins and outs of the manager's job before he got to his interview with the board.
“He was composed and impressive, his answers to our questions were on-target,” Bryson said. “I am confident that Josh will make a smooth transition into the job of Bryson City manager.”
Bryson City Mayor Tom Sutton said Ward was chosen because of his education, background and town government experience. Ward is replacing longtime manager Larry Callicutt who announced his retirement earlier this year.
“Josh is very well spoken and energetic, and that’s what were looking for,” Sutton said. “He’s going to bring a new perspective — anyone in a job for a long time, you develop your own way and stick with it. I think Josh is going be the guy to lead the town into the next step.”
Ward joins Bryson City after working for the town of Highlands for eight years in the planning and zoning department. For the last two years, he has served as the planning and director. Following graduation from Western Carolina University in 2001, Ward worked in environmental health at the Macon County Health Department.
Ward is a fifth-generation Franklin native and still resides there with his wife and three children. Growing up in Western North Carolina, Ward has the added advantage of knowing the area and the issues facing the region. He hopes his experience in Highlands has better prepared him for his new position.
“I felt like I had the experience and knowledge and it was just a logical progression in my career. It’s a good opportunity — that’s why I applied,” he said. “I know how town operations work and what they’re going through.”
Bryson said the best endorsement for Ward came from his former boss, Patrick Taylor, mayor of Highlands, “who jokingly complained in an email to me that we had stolen his right-hand man.”
Ward admits Bryson City is a different animal than Highlands. While Highlands’ population is about 950, its high property values result in a $14 million annual budget for the town. Bryson City has a population of about 1,500 with an annual budget of about $2.5 million. Even with those differences, Ward said the towns still face the same challenges.
“Really a small town like Bryson City or Highlands everybody has to work together, from the manager all the way down the line on projects,” he said. “And I think that kind of experience helped me move to a manager’s position.”
Callicutt stayed on for a week with Ward to get him acclimated and introduce him to the town’s 31 employees. Ward said his main goal at the moment was to meet everyone and become familiar with the town’s processes.
“I want to have a good working relationship with town employees and the town board, advisory groups, planning board, TDA and even the county employees because everyone has to work together to make it the best town it can be,” he said.
One thing he wants to do is update the town website. The town has a functional website but public information is scarce. The last town meeting agenda posted was from November 2014, and none of the meeting minutes are available for the public to view.
Ward said he planned to follow Highlands’ example by creating a “sunshine list” so the media and members of the public can keep up with town events and news. Instead of having to go by town hall to pick up information, anyone who wanted to receive email alerts with meeting agendas and other news could get added to the email blast. Having a sunshine list like other local governments will help the town be more transparent and create a more informed community.
As the new town manager, Ward will be making $73,000 a year plus benefits.