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Highlands hires Josh Ward as town manager

Last September, the town of Bryson City hired Highlands’ town planner Josh Ward to serve as it’s new town manager, but as of Jan. 3, Ward is returning to Highlands to replace retiring Town Manager Bob Frye.

After an extensive application process last year, the Bryson City Board of Aldermen selected Ward to replace Larry Callicutt, who had served as the town’s manger for more than 15 years. Alderman Rick Bryson said the board and staff were sorry to see Ward go but they understood it was an offer he couldn’t turn down. 

“It was a big surprise for all of us — Josh is as good as it gets,” Bryson said. 

Even if his time in Bryson City was short, Ward said he earned a lot of valuable experience from his time there, including how to manage personnel, budgeting and grant implementation.

“I am proud of the grant opportunities that we have been able to secure, in order to improve the water and sewer infrastructure that is so vital long term to providing more efficient services and to support economic development,” Ward said. “I feel my greatest accomplishments have been establishing new, up to date personnel policies and procedures.”

The move back to Highlands is an opportunity for Ward to reconnect with staff and residents of Highlands where he worked for eight years in the planning department and puts him back in his native county of Macon. 

Ward’s unexpected departure put the Bryson City Board of Aldermen back in the same position it found itself in last year, but Bryson said the board went about things a little differently this time to find a new town manager. Since last year was the first manager transition the board members had been through in a while, they put an advertisement out and went through dozens of applications — Ward ended up at the top of the heap. 

“Because Josh Ward had hands-on municipal experience in Highlands, we picked him and we’re not sorry,” Bryson said. 

But also during that process, Bryson said several of the board members had Chad Simons in mind for the job as well. At the time, Simons was working for the Smoky Mountain Times as a reporter, but when approached about the job, Bryson said Simons felt he didn’t have the right experience to be manager. 

Simons ended up moving to Franklin to serve as the town clerk, which allowed him to gain the experience he needed.   

“So, when he was asked to apply again, he replied, ‘That would be my dream job,’” Bryson said. “In the interview last Friday evening, he showed his grasp of the job of town manager. The board unanimously felt that we needed to look no farther.”

Simons will start work in Bryson City Dec. 28, which will give him a few days to work alongside Ward before he heads back to Highlands. 

“I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to work for the town of Bryson City. The town feels like home to me, and Josh has worked really hard on behalf of their board since he’s been there,” Simons said. “I’m stepping into a good, healthy situation because of Josh and the board’s stewardship. He set a high bar, but that’s certainly a good thing.”

Simons graduated from Franklin High School in 2005, graduated with honors from Western Carolina University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. He also serves in the North Carolina National Guard as a medic, and will be finishing out his contract this fall. 

He obtained his master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State in 2011 and interned with the town of Franklin in 2010, and did another internship with the town of Seven Devils, located just outside of Boone. 

Simons said he’s learned a lot during his tenure in Franklin that has prepared him for his new role, including working on two budgets, revamping the town’s human resources system, implementing a new pay plan for employees, and starting a safety program. 

“And learning under (Town Manager) Summer Woodard has been a wonderful experience,” Simons said. “I can’t say enough about her sharp mind and toughness. We’ve tackled a lot of problems and we’ve persevered.”

The town of Franklin will now have to start the process of hiring a new town clerk.

Since serving dual roles as the town clerk and human resource officer in Franklin since 2014, Woodard said Simons always goes above and beyond for his fellow employees and the organization in which he represents. 

“Simons is most deserving of this opportunity. It has been an honor and pleasure to work with him the last two years,” she said. “I wish him nothing but success on his future endeavor as the town manager for Bryson City.”

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