FAIRMONT — Commissioners here on Tuesday officially and unanimously approved the hiring of a new town manager, Jerome Chestnut.
Chestnut was chosen by the town board after interviews were conducted in July, according to Mayor Charles Kemp. The commissioners considered a pool of 11 applicants before narrowing it down to three for in-person interviews.
Town Clerk and Finance Officer Jenny Larson has been serving in the interim role since the May 6 departure of former Town Manager Hank Raper, who after one year of service, notified town commissioners of his intention to resign on April 6.
He began working as town manager for Siler City following his departure in May.
Chestnut comes from Chadbourn in Columbus County and is a graduate of W. Columbus High School. He has an extensive military career in the U.S. Army that stretched over the course of 20 years.
Most recently he has served as both assistant and interim town manager for the Town of Chadbourn.
“I can’t be more proud to be here in this environment; a great group of staff — everybody I’ve talked to so far knows their job, has been here a while, does it really well,” Chestnut said. “Thank you for the opportunity.”
Chestnut was present at Tuesday’s meeting and was met his first challenge, addressing the water and sewer flow problems for residents near the Old Field Swamp area.
Residents of the area spoke to commissioners about the issues, including former commissioner Monte McCallum.
“These people have to wake up in this stench every time it rains,” he said. “Some of you don’t know this because you don’t frequent that area but this is a true situation. I know that this is an impoverished area but it’s still a part of this town.”
The response to the problem was the announcement that the town has been awarded a $250,000 grant through the Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistant Program, appropriated by the N.C. General Assembly.
The grant is to specifically address the Old Field Swamp drainage issues by removing more than 2,000 linear feet of debris in the swamp and Pittman Mill Branch Canal.
Following approval of the grant ordinance, commissioners questioned the timeline which projects completion in the Fall of 2024.
Commissioner Terry Evans said he jumped the gun in telling residents in the area that help would come soon.
“I failed that whole area down there,” Evans said.
“We sat here on the board and said we’ll do something. We got your backs. We didn’t do nothing. It’s been over a year … All we did was just kick the can a little further. I guess we’ll have to let the cycle run itself out.”
Chestnut said he would look into speeding up the process and doing whatever he can that is legal to address the immediate needs.
“Myself and my Public Works director have already talked about personally going out and looking at these areas and putting boots on ground to see what we can do in the meantime to make things better,” Chestnut said. “There’s not going to be a quick fix to any of the flooding problems. What I can assure you though is myself and my staff will address them with the proper agencies that are going to help us.”
“The issues over in Old Field, we’re are aware of it and we’re doing the best we can to get the funding to give you some relief,” Commission J.J. McCree said.
McCree thanked Chestnut ahead of time for his intention to “speed this grant up.”
In other business,
— Commissioners approved the sale of property behind the “Old Brown Street sewer plant” to George Alliss in the amount $10,200.
— Mayor Kemp proclaimed Sept. 5-11 as Fairmont Town Employee Appreciation Week.
— Mayor Kemp presented Larson with a plaque honoring her for serving in the interim town manager role. Larson, as of this week, has been with the town for 24 years.
— Mayor Kemp presented certificates of appreciation to Lydia Dowdell and Kat Kitchell, of Empowering Youth 2 Serve.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.