05/05/06 — Eldridge offers view of Duplin's future

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Eldridge offers view of Duplin's future

By Turner Walston
Published in News on May 5, 2006 1:51 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Manager Fred Eldridge left his office for the last time Wednesday reflecting not only on his time in office, but also about what's ahead for the community that has been his adopted home for almost three years.

"It's hard to say goodbye," Eldridge said. "This is the bittersweet part about leaving."

Fred Eldridge

Fred Eldridge

And while he is proud of many of the county's accomplishments during his tenure, Eldridge said there is a lot of work left for Duplin leaders and citizens.

"I think Duplin County still has not learned to pull together yet as a county," he said. "I guess that was one task that I set for myself that I was never quite able to accomplish, to get people to think more of Duplin County and less of their individual areas."

County officials need to be able to put aside differences and focus on the good of the county as a whole, too, he said.

"The tendency is still to look at the micro and not at the macro," he said. "From my perspective, that's a little bit of a disappointment that I was not able to overcome that. I had hopes that I could pull together a sense of unity and oneness. That is still lacking for this county to have success, in my opinion."

Eldridge will finish out his May 15 notice with vacation time, assisting in the transition process that has been in the works since he announced his resignation March 6. Assistant County Manager Judy Brown will take over in the interim.

Eldridge spent Wednesday wrapping up monthly department reports to commissioners assisting Ms. Brown.

"I've been trying to do business as usual," he said. "I'm trying to organize it so I can hand it off to whomever, and they can work with it."

Eldridge said Ms. Brown's June retirement will have a significant impact.

"She has been an integral part of county operations for a number of years," he said. "County staff, department heads, county managers, county commissioners have come to depend on here in a way that is somewhat forgotten, and won't be realized until she's not here. She's going to be a very difficult person for the county to replace."

When asked if he was worried about the leadership of Duplin County given the fact that he and Mrs. Brown are leaving, Eldridge gave a one-word response: "Yes."

Eldridge said he will be available to assist county staff during the next couple of weeks as he works out his notice on vacation.

"Although I may not be physically here at the time, I'm treating it as vacation," he said. "I'll always be accessible to the staff. I think most all of them here know that."

Although Eldridge would not take credit for the county's achievements, he said he was proud of some accomplishments during his tenure, including establishing county-run Emergency Medical Services at the paramedic level.

"To do that in the short time constraints that we were given, is quite remarkable," he said. "I'll always know that the citizens of Duplin County have available professional services that they can call upon."

Although he might not have recommended them, Eldridge said he is pleased with Duplin Commons and the Duplin County Events Center near James Sprunt Community College.

"I think we have two exceptional facilities out there now," he said. "We now have an agricultural center to bring all those agencies together and be able to provide services to the agricultural community."

Even after he's gone, Eldridge said he will keep track of happenings in Duplin.

"I'm always going to have an interest in the success of this county in the future," he said. "I'll be more than glad to share information when asked, but I'll try not to stick my nose where it doesn't belong."

Eldridge said he hopes his replacement will be able to accomplish some of the goals he did not quite reach.

"I'm a firm believer that no one's irreplaceable, and of then that change can be very good," he said. "I am also one that doesn't like to go back often, because memories in reality, aren't always the same."

Eldridge said he has developed friendships that he will take with him.

"I am going to miss the people here. I won't always miss all the issues, but I am going to miss the people," he said. "I've made some extremely good friends and I'm sure there will be long-term relationships with the people of this county. I guess I have some extended families here that are going to be hard to leave."

His wife, Cathy, recently began work in an upper-level management job with a credit union in Toledo, Ohio, the couple's home state.

Eldridge said he is still exploring his own options.

"By the end of May, I will know where I'm going to land, probably. Things look very positive."