Black Mountain welcomes Josh Harrold back in new role as town manager

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Sixteen months after saying goodbye to Josh Harrold, Black Mountain was reintroduced to him as its newest town manager on Oct. 23.

Elected officials, town staff, community members and others gathered for lunch with Harrold, the town’s director of planning and development until last June, in the building shared by the public works and recreation and parks departments.

Josh Harrold says hello to Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce director Bob McMurray during a lunch in the town's new building at 304 Black Mountain Avenue on Oct. 23.

Mayor Don Collins, alderman Carlos Showers and interim town manager Ron Moore were among the dozens of people at 304 Black Mountain Avenue to welcome him back in his new role with the town.

Harrold first came to the town in 2014 to fill a position that sat vacant for three years prior to his arrival. He oversaw the planning department in his initial stint with Black Mountain, which ended when he took a similar position in the larger town of Lewisville.

On May 22, previous town manager Matt Settlemyer resigned abruptly after nearly six years in the position. The town advertised the open position and received 87 applications and Harrold’s was among them.

In a series of meetings over the summer, aldermen met and narrowed the list down to around 10 applicants, according to mayor Don Collins. From those, they interviewed Harrold and three other candidates.

“Before I left I’d had a few folks ask me if I would ever consider coming back if another position opened up,” Harrold said of his interest in the position. “I enjoyed my time here. This town is a beautiful place to live and has so much to offer.”

Harrold holds a master’s degree in geography from Appalachian State University and is a graduate of the UNC School of Government where he completed the Municipal and County Administration course. With no prior experience as a town manager, he believed his familiarity with the specific issues that impact Black Mountain and his decade in planning were strengths in the interview process.

“I think seeing people with planning backgrounds moving into administrative roles is a trend, and one we’ll see continue in the years to come,” he said. “The recently named manager for the City of Asheville (Debra Campbell) has a planning background with the City of Charlotte for a number years.

“With planning you kind of get a taste of everything in local government functions,” Harrold continued. “You’re dealing with water, sewer, building construction, parks and recreation, finance, about everything there is in local government.”

The relationships Harrold established with other town employees helped him stand out among other candidates, according to Collins.

“We knew what kind of hard work he’d done in the planning department in the past,” Collins said of Harrold. “I also believe he's the type of individual who can get everyone working together on the same team.”

Harrold started the position on Oct. 11 and spent a little over a week with Ron Moore, who served four months as interim town manager.

“I’ve already sat down with all of the department heads individually,” Harrold said of his first couple of weeks on the job. “That helped me get a feel for where things have been the past year and a half and what support they need to be successful in their positions.”

His first priority, he said, is to get up to speed on where specific projects stand and what the town needs to focus on in the near future.

“My plan is not to come in here and change everything we do,” Harrold said. “I want to come in and make sure we’re doing things as efficiently as possible because there are always opportunities to improve.”

The town will also continue its efforts to educate the public on the functions of local government, according to Harrold, who pointed to the first Citizen’s Academy course organized by town clerk Angela Reece as a great example of the type of outreach that is needed.

The new town manager also has plenty of challenges to face, the mayor said.

“He’ll have to help deal with the recent flooding we’ve had,” Collins said. “We have repairs to greenways that need to be made, and of course Josh did a lot of grant writing for our greenway system.”

Harrold said he would like to see members of the community have a voice in future projects like the future interchange at Blue Ridge Road, one of many projects he's familiar with from the first time he worked for the town.

"We want to do a small area plan in that area and get the folks who live out there involved," he said. "That will help us develop a plan for what we want that area to look like 10-15 years down the road. I want to pick up where I left off with things like that."

Updating the town's comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2004 and last revised in 2014, is another task on the horizon, Harrold added. 

The transition into the role has been a smooth one so far, according to the manager, who credits the work of the department heads with being a stabilizing force in the town as the board searched for a long-term fit. 

"I can't speak highly enough about the people we have over our departments here," he said. "Our staff works hard and through the last few months they haven't missed a beat."

Collins expressed optimism over the board's decision to hire Harrold. 

"He's an honorable, decent person with a high character," Collins said. "He's not the kind of person who will enable conflict between departments and staff. He is the kind of person who will develop strong professional relationships with the staff and work for hard for the town and its citizens."