FIRST ON NEUSE NEWS (UPDATED): Lenoir County hires new manager
With a pen created by Lenoir County Commissioner Craig Hill, Michael James signs his contract to become the new Lenoir County Manager. Witnessing the signing were, from left, Lenoir County Board of Commissioners Chair Linda Rouse Sutton, Board Clerk/Administrative Assistant to the County Manager Vickie Freeman King and Lenoir County Commissioner Reuben Davis. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
Lenoir County has found its new county manager – and he has deep Kinston and Eastern North Carolina roots.
Michael James, 32, was approved by the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners following a short, specially-called closed session meeting held before the regular monthly meeting Monday morning. James will officially take over as Lenoir County Manager on April 1; he replaces Mike Jarman, who retired from the position Sept. 1.
In an enthusiastic and unusually nonpartisan round of voting by the county commissioners, James was approved unanimously. After each commissioner voted “Yes” to hiring James, board chair Linda Rouse Sutton shouted, “Hallelujah!”
“We are so excited to have (James) here,” Sutton said. “It’s been a very meticulous process; we started in October and the board has been so involved. It’s amazing how this board has come together to make this happen. Michael was the top choice for all of us; we were unanimous from the beginning.
“We are very excited because he could’ve stayed in Union County where he would’ve had a much higher salary but he’s the kind of person who likes to make change, especially in rural areas. He’s a great fit for Lenoir County.”
Commissioner Preston Harris echoed Sutton’s sentiments.
“We are very enthusiastic about him,” Harris said. “We believe he’s a great fit for the county and that he’s a progressive individual who has had experience in large and small government.”
The two Republicans on the board – J. Mac Daughety and Eric Rouse – were as enthusiastic about James’ hiring as the five Democrats (Sutton, Harris, Roland Best, Craig Hill and Reuben Davis).
“We really felt like Michael James fit every one of the criteria and hit the benchmarks we were looking for when we started this process,” Daughety said. “We think he is going to take Lenoir County and lead it into a new age and new direction.”
According to Hill, around 35 candidates applied for the position. After that number was whittled down to six, five candidates eventually interviewed with the county commissioners.
“He was definitely the cream of the crop and the one that rose to the top,” Rouse said. “As you could tell by everyone trying to get the ‘second’ in there after his nomination, we are all very pleased with him. … No one’s arm had to be bent; everyone was in favor of Michael.”
There were three finalists for the job before James was the unanimous choice of the commissioners.
“We had some really good candidates,” Hill said. “Honestly, all the finalists could have done this job and done it well; we were very blessed that we had a very good pool. … But we just felt like Mike is ready to lead and that this was the right point in his career for this. It’s been a long process, but we took our time and we are certain the community is going to be pleased.”
Bryan will now return to his role as Assistant Lenoir County Manager.
“He’s going to be an asset to our community,” Bryan said of James. “He’s full of energy and he’s got good vision. I really look forward to working with him.”
James, a Jacksonville native, is a 2005 graduate of Southwest Onslow, where he won two state titles on the football field for the Stallions. He earned his undergraduate (2009) and master’s degrees (2011) from Appalachian State before serving as the manager of Rural Retreat, a small town in southwestern Virginia from 2011-15.
He left Rural Retreat to join Union County government in Monroe, a small city east of Charlotte, where he served as the assistant to the county manager. He was recently promoted to assistant county manager before accepting Lenoir County’s offer on Monday.
Not only does James have ENC roots in Onslow County, his father, Jerry James, was an employee of the City of Kinston for more than a decade when James was growing up.
“I’m excited to be back in Eastern North Carolina,” said James, who attended Monday’s meeting with his longtime girlfriend Devan Douthit. “Kinston and Lenoir County are in a great part of the state. The opportunity to become a county manager and to return to an area I love is what made this the right choice for me.”
Lenoir County Sheriff Ronnie Ingram talked to James for the first time Monday, and he also came away impressed with him.
“I think the commissioners made a good choice,” Ingram said. “He’s young, but you get new ideas from young prospects like him. He’s going to do great for Lenoir County.”
“Vision” was the word of the day amongst James and the county commissioners.
“This commission has a vision and I wanted to go to a community that wants to go somewhere and to accomplish things,” James said. “This county commission wants to see economic development and they want to see Lenoir County and Kinston be successful. That’s exciting, as a manager, to be a part of a group that has that type of vision and purpose.”
Hill touted James’ vision for Lenoir County.
“He’s a young man who I think has a vision for what he wants to do here,” Hill said. “He appreciates the momentum we’ve got in this community and wants to be a part of it. He has some familiarity with this community and Eastern North Carolina.”
He continued, “He has experience with a very small town, so he’ll understand Pink Hill and La Grange. But he’s also worked in a very large community where there are 230,000 people and worked in a department that was larger than our county as a whole, so he has a very strong background.”
James headed back to Union County Monday morning to start wrapping up his duties but said he’s excited about coming back to Kinston soon.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with my new staff and then meeting leaders in this community who are involved in the county and the city,” James said. “I want to get to know them and I want them to get to know me and to start building those relationships so we can work together successfully.
“I’m planning to listen and learn a lot over the next few months.”
Lenoir County has hired its new county manager: Jacksonville native Michael James. The 32-year-old, who was an assistant county manager in Union County before accepting the local position, graduated from Southwest Onslow High School in 2005 and has degrees from Appalachian State University.
He is set to start his new position April 1.
This is breaking news — please come back for more details later this morning.