Tuesday before last I was at home eating a sandwich for lunch. Chief Harrell called me and said he needed to meet with me and the town manager at my office as soon as possible. I finished my sandwich and drove back to the office. On the way I was thinking we must have a problem concerning the state of emergency, or something to that effect.
When I arrived the chief and town manager were waiting for me in the office. I took a deep breath and asked what was this about. The chief began the meeting by immediately saying he had accepted the police chief position in Franklin.
I was surprised by not shocked. Bill Harrell is an outstanding law enforcement officer with extensive experience, several certifications and a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration. He has been our police chief for 14 years, and I have suspected for some time that another municipality like Franklin would want him to lead their police department.
Bill has led our Highlands Police Department to a high level of effectiveness by recruiting, developing and retaining an outstanding police force. We have one of the most highly trained and professional police departments in Western Carolina. Eighty percent of our officers hold a 2- or 4-year college degree, and almost all hold law enforcement certifications beyond the basic requirements.
The chief explained in an apologetic manner that Franklin had made him an offer that he could not refuse. I responded that we understood his decision, and that he had to consider his career and family. I congratulated Bill for his service to Highlands and for his new position.
The process for finding a new police chief will get underway as soon as possible. The town will go through a thorough search process in finding a leader who can move our police department forward.
I have been tracking the problems that NCDOT is having, especially now in this state of emergency that has severely curtailed the driving of the public. The motor fuel tax that funds road projects has all but dried up. Also, the yearly audit reveals that NCDOT overspent their budget by 12.5% last year.
They are now essentially broke. State statues require that DOT maintain a three hundred-million-dollar reserve fund. DOT funds are below the reserve requirements, therefore all planned, even some existing projects, have been stopped in compliance with the state statue.
The leaders are working to find a way to avoid mass layoffs and continue to do basic maintenance on state roads. So, scheduled area projects like bridge replacements, resurfacing of existing highways, and paving of gravel roads are now on hold until further notice. I will keep you posted, but I suspect it will take some time for the highway department of recover.
Please remember that we are not out of the coronavirus “woods” yet. Social distancing, the wearing of face coverings, avoiding large groups and unnecessary travel are all important Phase 1 behaviors for stopping the spread.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor