Former educator now leading Bryson City
After a 30-year career in public education, Regina Mathis is trying her hand in public administration as the new Bryson City town manager.
Originally from Sylva, Mathis has lived in Swain County for 14 years. She served as the assistant principal for Swain Middle and was principal at Swain High for several years before moving to the administrative office where she served as associate superintendent for four years and as the director of human resources for another eight years.
While the careers seem very different, Mathis said she feels her experience in the school system will lend itself well to her new position.
“I feel like some of my skills I already gained from being in education — managing and leading people and the budgeting things I’m responsible for — will transfer over to this position well,” Mathis said. “After 30 years in education, I thought this was a great opportunity to do something different so I just kind of took the leap.”
Mathis was hired by the town to replace former manager Chad Simons who went home to become the town manager in Murphy. Mathis is the third manager Bryson City has had to hire since longtime manager Larry Callicutt retired in 2015.
Bryson City was able to steal Josh Ward away from his planning director position in Highlands only to lose him a year later when he returned to Highlands to serve as its town manager.
Then the town hired Simons, who had been serving as town clerk in Franklin, but again, after a year Simons took the position in Murphy to cut down on his commute. One factor the Bryson City board considered this time around was hiring someone who would stick around longer. With roots in Swain County, Alderman Janine Crisp said she thinks Mathis will be with the town for a while.
“We are thrilled to have Regina working as our town manager. She is enthusiastic, intelligent and a people person. Her years in public education have served her well in developing important traits, characteristics and skills that will, no doubt, lend themselves to her success in this position as well,” Crisp said. “We are all well aware of the learning curve that Regina will have to master, but I am confident that she can and that she will. Also, I believe our town will have a much better chance of keeping her as town manager for hopefully much longer than the two town managers before her as she is a resident of Bryson City.”
Mathis has been on the job for about two weeks now and is learning the ropes with the help of the town staff. She says she looks forward to working with the people of Bryson City and plans to have an open door policy for employees, residents and business owners.
“I love the interactions with the people and so far the employees here have been absolutely amazing — the ladies in the office are my trainers,” Mathis said. “And the previous managers have done a great job in laying out timelines and things that need to be done.”
With a fairly comprehensive outline laid out for her, Mathis said her first year would be spent just following in those footsteps and following through with plans put in place to meet the infrastructure challenges the town is currently facing. Bryson City is in the process of making major repairs to its aging water and sewer system and also striving to keep up with repaving streets at the same time.
“Our biggest challenge is getting our infrastructure in order. We’re always working to better our water and sewer infrastructure but we can’t do it all at once,” she said. “We’re setting priories and figuring out what we need the most.”
Mathis had just started her job when town aldermen and the county commissioners held a joint meeting to discuss some ongoing issues. She said the meeting was beneficial for everyone involved as a way to work together on important projects and both boards decided to make the joint meetings a bi-annual event.
“It was so beneficial for everyone to hear the same information and try to get on the same page,” she said. “We came up with some great solutions that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t all met. I think it will help better the town and the county in general.”
The town and county are close to reaching an agreement for the Bryson City Police Department to lease office space inside the federal building, which the county acquired earlier this year. The county also plans to move its administrative offices into the federal building to free up space at the county administrative building for the court system.
The town and the county also jointly own the buildings now occupied by the police department and the fire station. They decided it would make more sense for the town to solely own the police department building and for the county to own the fire station.
Lastly, a committee that was formed in the 1970s started the Swain County Recreation Center, but there’s no clear deed to the county or the town, which has made it difficult to go after grant funding to improve the rec park. The town and county decided to work toward a resolution making the county the sole owner.