New manager: Pasquotank 'good fit'
By Jon Hawley
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Pasquotank County’s new county manager said Tuesday he sees “positive momentum” in the county and that his goal is “to move that forward.”
Interviewed a day after Pasquotank commissioners voted to hire him, Sparty Hammett said he's winding down his consulting business and preparing to hit the ground running on March 19, his first day as manager. Hammett is taking over for County Manager Rodney Bunch, who's retiring at month's end.
Hammett, 54, of Lyman, South Carolina, is a former assistant county administrator for Richland County, the second most-populous county in the state. He left that position in 2015 to resume his government consulting firm, Hammett Consulting.
Asked why he decided to accept the county manager’s job in much smaller Pasquotank, Hammett explained that the smaller county suits his “hands-on, interactive” management style, and offers a welcoming community near popular travel spots in southeastern Virginia and the Outer Banks.
“It seemed like a good fit,” Hammett said.
Asked about his first priorities as manager, Hammett said “the number one thing is the budget.” The county will be starting budget preparation right as he's coming on board, he noted, and he's planning to work closely with other county staff and commissioners to deliver next year's spending plan.
Hammett, who will be paid $125,000 annually, also said he’s planning to get “knee-deep” in county operations and look for ways to improve them. Though he didn’t identify specific departments, he noted he’s had a lot of success streamlining Richland’s development services.
Hammett recounted that, when he started at Richland, it had a “tainted reputation” as a difficult place to do business. He said he worked to streamline planning and building services, including through a new geographic information system-based system and other technology. Those efforts were successful, and he shared a 2015 article touting development departments’ transformation into a “one-stop shop” that reduced plan review times from two months to 12 days. He also commented in that article that “the overall culture of development services had to change.”
Though Hammett has worked in government for more than 20 years, he’s now going to manage a county in another state — and a county with less than a tenth of Richland’s population.
While Hammett acknowledged he will have to familiarize himself with some new state laws, he said the structure of county government is very similar from one Carolina to another. South Carolina counties are also expected to help fund their school systems, for instance, he said.
That’s important, since funding for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools is the single largest part of Pasquotank’s general fund budget.
Hammett also said Richland has many shared services with other jurisdictions, similar to how Pasquotank shares emergency services, central communications, parks and recreation and other services with Elizabeth City and/or Camden County.
As for Pasquotank’s smaller budget, Hammett said he knows how to do more with less. He noted he worked at Richland during the economic recession, and the county there had to adapt to declining revenues and state funding cuts. Most of the streamlining he oversaw was accomplished with existing resources, he added. Leftover bond funding helped pay for the new GIS-based system, he noted.
Hammett’s contract with Pasquotank is for two years. County Attorney Mike Cox said Tuesday that’s a normal contract length for county managers.
Asked if he plans to work in Pasquotank until retirement, Hammett said he’s not sure. However, he stressed Pasquotank is going to become his home, and he’s committed to serving it well.
“I want to make some positive change for the citizens of Pasquotank County,” Hammett said.
Asked about his family life and interests, Hammett said he’s not married and doesn’t have children, and enjoys travel, reading and college football.
Also asked about his unusual first name, Hammett noted it’s his given name and he’s actually Sparty Hammett III.