Ralph Clark said he has had a busy three days since starting as the Interim City Manager on Monday.
Clark made his first work-related trip out of City Hall Wednesday morning when he attended the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission. He spent the first two days meeting with key city staff and getting up to speed on issues facing Elizabeth City.
“You have to come in and quickly explore because you are on a very quick learning curve,” Clark said. “You start by putting that puzzle together.’’
Clark, who served as city manager from 1991 to 1995, replaces Public Safety Director Eddie Buffaloe, who was named acting city manager on Aug. 23 after City Council put former manager Montre Freeman on paid leave. City Council terminated Freeman without cause on Sept. 30.
Clark held a group meeting with key city staff on Monday and has started meeting with department director’s one-on-one. He said some city staff have expressed frustration on what has been going on in the city the last several months.
“Not having support for the things they do from the upper level, and sometimes having to deal with council,” Clark said is one frustration that he heard. “That’s a manager’s job to deal with council. When I was a manager, I would take the lead there.’’
Buffaloe has been picked by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve as the new secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Buffaloe’s last day with the city is Oct. 31.
Clark said finding an interim Public Safety Director may prove difficult as the city must find someone on a temporary basis that has both fire and police experience. He said a permanent Finance Director could be named as early as next week.
“Being a Public Safety Director requires a special individual,” Clark said. “I have to find out if we have that special individual. I’ll have to sort that out.”
Wastewater capacity has been an issue that has been discussed for years and Clark wants to put the city on a path addressing infrastructure needs while he is interim. He is expected to be on the job for four to six months.
An outside consultant told city officials in May 2020 that the city needs $37 million in water and sewer upgrades, with half going towards improving the performance of city sewer lines. Currently, a large amount of rainwater is getting into the wastewater system and that rainwater is then treated as sewer, which taxes the system and could impede future growth.
“Wastewater treatment capacity has been a big conversation,” Clark said. “My goal while I am here is to get something in motion to lead them down a path. If you don’t something in the next few years, you will have one (moratorium on development) and it will stifle all the growth here.”
Clark, who is working Monday through Thursday, lives in New Bern but is staying at the Culpepper Inn, where the city is paying $75 a night for lodging. Clark is being paid $75 an hour and be given $18 per day to spend on dinner.