Next mayor wants to create consensus on town council

pseligson@newsobserver.comSeptember 27, 2013 

  • A Lampe biography

    John Lampe, 54, was born and spent most of his childhood in Smithfield.

    He attended high school in Rome, Ga., and graduated from N.C. State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

    Lampe then started working for the family business – Guy C. Lee Building Materials. He first ran the store in Apex before taking over the whole business in 1999.

    Lampe served on the Smithfield Town Council from December 1993 through December 2001.

Smithfield’s next mayor will step into the role with one goal: create a harmonious council.

“Everything flows from a well-run council,” said John Lampe, who is running unopposed for mayor.

The owner of Guy C. Lee Building Materials, Lampe comes to the mayor’s office with eight years experience on the town council; he served two terms, from December 1993 to December 2001. Lampe will succeed Daniel Evans, who decided to not seek reelection.

Lampe’s start as mayor will come with a high turnover on the council. Three councilmen decided to not run for reelection: Charles Williams of District 1, Vic Ogburn of District 3 and Zach Crocker of District 4.

The turnover is why Lampe isn’t starting his tenure with specific goals; he said he wants to first work with the council, discuss individual goals, get everyone on the same page and then plan from there. All of the newcomers will be sworn in at the council’s December meeting.

“This is unusual for Smithfield in that we have so many new council people coming on and so many coming off,” Lampe said. “I cannot remember in my lifetime we’ve had this big a turnover.”

Usually, he said, people become established in their elected posts and serve for years; a council can even become stagnant.

Lampe said he hopes to build good communication on the council with seminars or a retreat. “I’m sure each of those council people is going to have their input, their own goals,” he said. “I’m going to have to build a consensus among everybody.”

Lampe also wants harmony on the council. “Not all councils work well together,” he said. “I’ve been on both. The ones that work well together are a joy and make you proud to be in Smithfield, and the towns that have internal problems (are) why people complain about government.”

During his two terms on the town council, Lampe said, one group worked well together, but the other was only average.

Lampe said Smithfield has no major problems. “The town is relatively well run as it is now,” he said. “It has a good city manager.”

But Lampe does have some general topics he wants to review. That way the council can see where Smithfield stands and whether the town has problems that the council needs to address, he said.

Lampe plans to compare Smithfield to other public-power towns with similar populations on such metrics as electricity rates, number of employees, tax rates and tax revenue.

Also, he also plans to review the town’s commitments, such as contracts with employees, lease agreements and bond agreements. Finally, he wants to review Smithfield’s debt service, or the amount of money the town spends every year to retire debt.

“Comparison analysis is always a good idea,” Lampe said. “It gives you a measuring stick to hold up to yourself to see how well you’re doing in comparison to others who are similar to yourself.”

Lampe also wants the council to map what he called a “critical path” for Smithfield. This is a management technique in which leaders look, for instance, five years into the future and say, “We want to be here, and how long is it going to take to get each of those accomplished?” Then leaders work backward to see how long it will take to accomplish each goal and how to plan for those goals.

“Get everybody on the same page,” Lampe said. “Let everybody measure the town compared to other similar towns. If there’s any weakness, you get the council to agree on what that is and then you come up with a strategy or a path to how you’re going to correct that issue.”

Councilman Perry Harris, who is running unopposed for re-election, said starting off the new session with a retreat is a good idea.

“I wish someone had done that for me when I first got on the council,” Harris said. “We’ve got a lot of new people coming in who are fine people and good citizens but don’t really know the inner workings of the city when it comes to things like finance and things along those lines.”

Harris said his goals revolve around getting Smithfield back on its financial feet, and he cautioned that Smithfield’s financial problems could make it hard to compare Smithfield to other towns.

The biggest problem, Harris said, is Smithfield’s lack of growth, followed by low cash reserves.

“We still have a lot of work to do, so I would say of his idea of having a retreat right off the bat to get conversations going and to get people up to speed on what’s going on ... is a good idea.”

Councilman Emory Ashley, who is not up for election this year, agreed that a retreat or something similar was a good idea. He said since joining the council two years ago, he has wanted the council to meet twice a month with either a workshop meeting or an agenda-setting meeting.

“I welcome any meetings we can have to make sure we are at least on the same page,” Ashley said. “We may not always agree, but at least we’re on the same page.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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