There was a moment in last week’s Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting which spoke volumes about where the town is and where it’s heading — a moment which underscored the need for Pittsboro …
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There was a moment in last week’s Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting which spoke volumes about where the town is and where it’s heading — a moment which underscored the need for Pittsboro to move on without Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck, who, by meeting’s end, had unceremoniously resigned.
After a discussion Monday night about the town’s dire water and wastewater treatment needs, and comments by outgoing Town Engineer Elizabeth Goodson (who’s leaving for a job with Holly Springs), new Pittsboro Commissioner Kyle Shipp broke a brief period of silence by stating the obvious: What’s Pittsboro’s timeline? We can analyze the data for a long time, he said, but at some point, somebody’s got to make a decision about Pittsboro’s options.
It was a statement which hung in the air just a little too long for anyone’s comfort.
The fact is, the question shouldn’t have needed to be asked. The town manager — the administrative chief of a rapidly-growing town grappling with issues of that nature — should have come into a meeting like that with answers, recommendations, and a course of action.
Instead, all Gruesbeck could do was half-heartedly throw Shipp’s pass back to the board.
Less than an hour later, in a closed session, Pittsboro’s five commissioners asked Gruesbeck to resign the position he’d held since late 2012. He offered to, and the approval vote was unanimous.
Gruesbeck probably doesn’t shoulder all the blame for it, but the glacial pace at which the town responds to asks from developers and local businesses has been a sore point for some time now. There’s no question Pittsboro is a very different town than the one Gruesbeck first pulled into seven years ago. Still, no one could accuse those within the town’s administration of being customer-friendly. We at the News + Record have first-hand experience with that, and not a small number of property-owners have reached out to us in frustration, saying that the timeline for doing business in Pittsboro is two or three times longer, if not four times, than most other communities.
Those complaints came on Gruesbeck’s watch. And in the days leading up to Gruesbeck’s resignation, the News + Record reached out to him about another issue: an apparently violation of state law, albeit by oversight, of North Carolina’s open meetings statutes by the town. After extensive consultation with the newspaper’s attorney, our request was to simply to sit down with Gruesbeck to discuss it. Our emailed inquiry to him got no response. A follow-up email to Gruesbeck did generate a reply and the promise of an answer the next day or the day after. In fact, it was after 5 p.m. a full business day later — just prior to Monday’s board meeting — that Gruesbeck finally responded — and without fully addressing this newspaper’s questions and concerns. Worse, Gruesbeck still refused to meet with News + Record publisher Bill Horner III and reporter Casey Mann about the apparent violations — telling Horner during a break just before the board went into closed session, “I’m just not going to meet with you.”
Now, new Mayor Jim Nass and his fellow board members have the task of replacing Gruesbeck, as well as replacing Goodson and filling some other high-profile openings. It’ll take time to get the ship righted and at full sail again, but after a meeting with Nass last Friday we’re confident the tone at town hall will change, particularly with the hiring (in process now) of a capable, competent and caring town manager who’ll spend meetings engaged with staff and board members — not trolling Facebook or texting.
Nass’ previous work on behalf of the town of Pittsboro — he led a turn-around of the local ABC board as its chairman, and has led the town’s Affordable Housing Task Force and the Chatham Park Additional Elements Committee — gives him the perspective to move the needle for the town’s board and the town itself. He’s gone on record about the need for additional staffing at the town, as well as the necessity to blend “old” and “new” Pittsboro into a desirable hometown.
Monday’s action to remove Gruesbeck — a brave decision, especially given Goodson’s departure and the pending retirement of long-time Town Clerk Alice Lloyd — was a bold, but necessary move by Nass and his team. But it’s one that hopefully paves the way for better days inside town hall.