NEWPORT - Newport's newly appointed Town Manager William P. Shanahan Jr. spoke with members of the public Tuesday, Jan. 17 during his first workshop to discuss opportunities for the town.
The next citizen forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at Newport Town Hall.
Seating was limited at the recent workshop as many people showed up to personally greet Shanahan and share their thoughts on town development.
Notably, members of the town council were not present for the meeting.
Shanahan explained this was a deliberate action taken to maintain candidness of this first workshop.
"We work for you, and so we think it is very important that we get your opinion about how things are going and what we're going to do," Shanahan said. "Probably in another month, I will sit down with the council, and I will say this is what I have been told and these are my recommendations based on the information that I have received."
The first topics discussed included near- and long-term goals for Newport.
With a one-to-two-year time length in mind, participants were encouraged to give their thoughts on what goals they would like to see in the immediate future.
Some of the primary suggestions raised by citizens were improvements to road conditions, general infrastructure repair and an update to the town's land use plan in anticipation of the future Interstate 42.
In 2016, the N.C. Department of Transportation received conditional approval from the American Association of State and Transportation Officials to designate U.S. 70 between Raleigh and Morehead City as Interstate 42.
The new route is expected to bring an explosion of growth to Newport and surrounding areas as construction completes in the next few years.
With a looming increase in population on the horizon, many citizens and members of town staff highlighted the need to bolster the fire/EMS, police and maintenance departments which they say are already stretched too thin and have antiquated equipment.
Other short-to-medium-term goals included improvements to downtown parking, better street lighting and ditch drainage, the creation of sidewalks to promote walkability and the need for more commercial development.
"I wish we could have more businesses in here so we wouldn't have to go to Morehead City for everything," one community member said.
Another opportunity identified in the meeting was the public's desire for better communication about what is going on in the town.
Noted as a good example was the "Newport Voice," a free monthly publication that ran several years as a labor of love by local resident and Editor Josie Mullins.
"We will be doing these meetings every three months and will take one or two projects that are interesting, and we will have all the content there," said Shanahan. "When looking at newsletters and stuff down the road, I think public information is very important. It's too easy for things that happen to slip through the cracks."
An additional weakness brought up during the meeting was the need to fill important vacant staff positions, such as planning director, as well as keep town employees motivated who are passionate about their jobs.
"I know we've had a study that addresses pay scales to get it more in line with the duties and salaries, but if we don't retain our employees, then we're never going to move forward," said Shanahan. "We seem to be in this cyclical state of constantly rehiring, and it's hard to get anything accomplished that way."
At the end of the meeting, Shanahan explained he hopes to hold similar discussions once every three months to keep citizens directly engaged in the town's development.
Within 45 days of this first forum, he hopes to present the information gathered into a report that will be presented before town council and made available to town residents.
"Can we have everything we want over the next few years?" asked Shanahan. "Of course not, but we can get things going in the right direction. We want to get a plan created, and then we want to get something done. We're hearing your voice."