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Thursday, Nov. 30 will be bittersweet for Black Mountain Police Department police chief Steve Padgett. The Black Mountain native officially begins his retirement.

Padgett, who has been with the police department for 25 years, is retiring on the same day as detective Lee Ribley and communication supervisor Sylvia Jordan. The latter two been with the department for 20 and 25 years respectively.

Padgett, whose family has lived in Black Mountain for generations, said last week that he's still getting used to the idea of being retired. Being a law enforcement officer is a big part of who he is, he said.

"It's a happy occasion," he said, "but I've also worn a uniform since I was 17, from the military to my career in law enforcement."

Padgett joined the Navy after graduating from Owen High School Padgett attended every game this year; his younger brother Nathan Padgett is currently the head coach of the school's varsity program.

"They shipped a mountain boy all the way to San Diego," Steve Padgett said. "That was a good experience." He spent a little less than a year there before being sent to the Naval station in Norfolk, Virginia.

He never doubted he'd return to the Swannanoa Valley.

"I am a product of the town," he said in his office at the police department. "When I joined the military I went all over the place. But I always wanted to come back."

Padgett served briefly with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department when he applied for a position on the Black Mountain police force. Sonny Slagle was police chief. He and the town manager convinced the board of aldermen that he wasn't too young for the job. "I've never forgotten that," Padgett said.

Through the years, Padgett has made it a priority to, he said, "leave the department in a better place than I found it."

"If everyone continues to do that, then we'll be able to provide the most professional service to the community," he said. "Our community is so supportive of us and we want to make sure to always maintain that relationship."

Padgett and the department have striven to strengthen bonds with the community by spending time in local schools and getting to know the kids on a personal level.

"We have to work hard to ensure that our community knows that we want this partnership," he said. "When we're walking through the schools, eating lunch with the kids or bringing the K-9 (dog) for them to read to, not only are we building those relationships, but we're also providing security at the school with our presence."

Padgett is also proud that nearly half of his officers have obtained advanced law enforcement certifications through the North Carolina Department of Justice - the highest certification possible for a law enforcement officer in the state.

"Our goal has been to develop officers and make sure they receive that training, so when opportunities for advancement arise they can seize that moment," the chief said.

With his retirement approaching, Padgett said he plans to take a break and spend more time with his family, a rarity for law enforcement officers.

"A lot of folks don't understand that in law enforcement in general, your family gets put on the back burner," he said. "You work nights, days, weekends, inclement weather. You miss a lot of your kids' events, a lot of birthdays and a lot of holidays. So it's time to make up for that time now."

Black Mountain was fortunate to have Padgett as police chief, town manager Matt Settlemyer said.

"He always puts the community first," he said. "We will have a hard time replacing someone as committed to this town as Chief Padgett."

Nevertheless, the search for a new chief will likely begin in early 2017, Settlemyer said.

"We'll appoint an interim chief through the holidays, which will be discussed with Chief Padgett and his staff," Settlemyer said. "We'll probably set up a format of a series of interviews and opportunities for candidates to get to know Black Mountain and for Black Mountain to get to know them."

Finding an interim chief within the department should not be too hard, Padgett believes

"I like to brag on this department, because it functions so well as a team," he said. "My accomplishments are theirs and theirs are mine. It's a two-way street."

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