Friday, March 13, 2015

End of an era in Davidson...Leamon Brice announces retirement.

Rumors had been swirling for several months regarding the possible retirement of Davidson’s long-time town manager, Leamon Brice, and on Tuesday evening they were finally put to rest.

Brice revealed his plans at the beginning of the regular monthly meeting – announcing the end of the tenure of the one and only town manager Davidson has ever had.

And what a tenure of service is has been.

In April, Brice will have served the Town of Davidson for 25 years.  Brice is already by far the longest serving municipal town manger in Mecklenburg county and when he officially retires in December he will be one of the longest serving managers in the State of North Carolina.

I had previously asked Rob Shepherd with the North Carolina League of Municipalities how Brice’s tenure stacked up against other managers in the state.

Shepherd said “it is unusual to have someone serve in one town for 20 years or more but I have heard of a few managers in recent memory that have served for that long or slightly longer.  I’ve read in some publications by the International City & County Management Association that the average tenure for a manager is 5 to 7 years.  So, Leamon is definitely in an elite group of professional local government managers who have served in one place for that amount of time.”

Brice came to Davidson in April of 1990 after serving stints in town management in the small North Carolina towns of Plymouth and Fairmont.

Compared to those towns which have remained relatively unchanged over the last 25 years, Davidson has experienced massive growth over that period.  In 1990, Davidson had a population of just over 4,000.  Today, the population tops 12,000 and is set to grow significantly more in coming years.

As part of town efforts to limit and control the growth that has occurred, Brice has led the town through multiple regulatory and planning efforts.  The town has done an admirable job of protecting its small town character during Brice's tenure through efforts such as the developing the initial town Planning Ordinance, a Comprehensive Plan, and building out an award winning planning department.  Brice certainly deserves credit for those accomplishments.

However, as can be expected over such a long tenure, not everything has gone quite as planned.

In 2001, Davidson passed an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) in an attempt to pass back more of the costs of additional development to the actual developers.   By 2013, after a string of legal challenges across the state as well as one here locally against the developers of the Summers Walk neighborhood, Davidson saw the writing on the wall and repealed the ordinance.

2001 also saw Davidson implement one of the only mandatory Affordable Housing ordinances in the state.  After 14 years, the Affordable Housing ordinance has generated just 56 for sale units with many of those selling to people with incomes over the maximum thresholds.  Town staff is currently undergoing a major revamping of the ordinance in an attempt to make it effective.

These ordinances are the subjects of a current lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Housing policy and to receive compensation for previous APFO payments.

Then of course there is Mi-Connection.

Back in 2007, as town manager Brice played a central role for the town in the creation of the locally owned cable company that has become a constant drain on town coffers.

Last week’s column told readers about some good news for the company with the possibility of improving the financing on the bulk of its outstanding debt.  Hopefully, by the time Brice actually retires later this year that frustrating problem will be further along the path to resolution.

It would be a nice way to go out and leave the town in a better financial position than over the last few years.

 certainly deserves recognition for his long tenure and for his contributions to what makes Davidson special.  It's not common these days to stay in one place for such a long time, and in many ways that continuity has been valuable.

When you see him around town over the coming months, thank him for his service.  He deserves it.

However, as Davidson’s Board begins the process of finding a new town manager with the goal of doing so by October, the Board should commit to going outside of town hall for Brice's replacement.

With all of the challenges facing Davidson in coming years as growth continues, the town will benefit from the opportunity of having a completely new set of eyes looking at them.

This post originally appeared in this week’s The Herald Weekly

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