07/21/14 — New Commissioner Joe Gurley plans to learn first, then to help set priorities

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New Commissioner Joe Gurley plans to learn first, then to help set priorities

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 21, 2014 2:02 PM

Commissioner Joe Gurley says he learned early on that it was better to talk less and to listen more.

It is the approach he is taking on the campaign trail and as he sits through his initial meetings as the board's newest member.

Listening more will be critical, he said, as he tries to catch up on everything from commission procedures to county issues.

Gurley, a Republican, was recommended by the party's Executive Committee for the seat left vacant in late April when Steve Keen resigned to take a position with the governor's office.

The term does not expire until December 2016, but Gurley's appointment is only through early December of this year.

Because the vacancy occurred within the first two years of a four-year term, the final two years have to be decided by an election.

Gurley filed to keep an office, which, at that point, he did not officially have yet, on June 2.

So far, he has no Democratic opponent.

As a former longtime county employee, Gurley, who retired at the end of May as director of the Office of Emergency Services, has attended many board meetings.

"I am sure there is still a learning curve because some things are going to come up that I am not going to be exactly familiar with," he said. "For the most part, I felt pretty comfortable in there. Operational policies and formats, I felt pretty comfortable in that area."

And he says he has goals for his new role.

"I think what I want to bring to the table, probably more than anything, is good quality service. Everybody out here deserves excellent customer service, and they need to be treated with respect."

During his first interview since taking office, Gurley shied away from many specifics on topics ranging from GATEWAY to the hours of operation at the animal shelter.

But he did say he does not favor tax increases.

Gurley said he is waiting to determine just what stand he will take on what he sees as the county's challenges and priorities.

"Issues, I am trying not to make any pre-judgments on anything or go after any particular cause or case," he said. "What I am trying to concentrate on first is what we are doing in all areas effective and efficient. I think that is my main goal right now to observe and make sure.

"I don't want to go in and pre-judge because sometimes there are some underlying measures that we don't really know about until we get there. Rather than come in and try to be Superman or a super hero, I had rather sit back and observe for a while."

Gurley said he has always had an interest in politics that was stoked by the troubles of the Richard Nixon administration.

"So I guess Watergate might have kind of bit me," he said. "And then whenever I got into county government, I got to see how politics evolves."

He has seen how the board he now serves has changes as well.

"You had a change in the board, a major change that changed the direction of the board, so there was a lot of new ground to break in and cover," he said. "Along the way as you are breaking in new ground, probably different personalities come about.

"I do think after that first year when it got into the second year, and I will credit Wayne Aycock who jumped in as chairman, they became a lot more harmonized. I think Wayne has had a smoothing effect on them."

One hallmark of the Republican-controlled board that was elected two years ago has been regular meetings lasting eight hours or more.

"Certainly in Joe's opinion, the board of commissioners' meetings should be able to be taken care of in three or four hours or less, unless there is a specific reason, like a public hearing for a big issue or budget season," Gurley said.

Those meetings can get a little lengthier, but on a normal schedule three or four hours should take care of any commissioners' meeting, he said.

As OES director, Gurley has been involved with the county's new and troubled radio system from the start.

It is an issue he is now seeing from the other side of the table.

Gurley said he feels he brings a lot to the discussion on that issue, but again there is still the learning curve.

"We will continue on with the board of commissioners' wishes a year ago to get it completed and enhanced," he said. "So we will stay on that track and continue to make improvements."

Asked if the problems had been overplayed, Gurley said it is a complex story and that all of the details can't be given in just one sitting.

Problems occurred during the build out of the system that were never repaired, he said.

Gurley said he has "a lot of faith" in the new company now working on the system.

Gurley joins the board at a time when the county is evaluating its participation in the Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority. He will represent commissioners on the GATEWAY board.

Gurley said he has asked County Manager George Wood to put together an orientation session about GATEWAY.

Gurley, who served from 1981-88 as the county's chief animal control officer, is also on the Animal Control Advisory Board.

He was asked about what some residents see as abbreviated hours of operation at the animal shelter. Also, of concern is the four-day week that many departments have operated under for several years.

People who work in that department are always in a "fish bowl" and under public scrutiny, he said.

"I am always concerned with any organization, the staffing patterns and hours of operation," he said. "Let's don't overextend ourselves if we don't have the manpower. Let's do hours of operation that will give quality service rather than stretch us so thin. So that would be one of the first issues I would look at -- hours of operation and staffing pattern with it.

"I am not trying to gauge anything without going and sitting down and looking into it. I believe the hours of operation would be my first concern. I am a big proponent of providing quality service."