In the days after Chris Seaberg announced his resignation as town manager, at least a couple of Swansboro commissioners began thinking about choosing his successor from within.

At their Nov. 8 meeting, in a closed-to-the public virtual meeting, the commissioners agreed to that plan and came out of the closed session to announce that they would hire Paula Webb, assistant town manager and town clerk, as Swansboro’s eighth town administrator/manager.

Included in that plan was the promotion of Alissa Fender to town clerk from deputy town clerk.

Webb, for the second time in her long career with the town, has been serving as interim town manager. She held that post just before Seaberg’s arrival in September 2019 and was tapped again when he left for a federal job aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in early October.

Commissioner Frank Tursi, mayor pro tempore, said choosing Webb to be manager was the town’s best option, and one that was foreshadowed two years ago.

“When we hired Seaberg, we created the position of assistant manager and appointed Paula to that position,” he said. Commissioners recognized Webb’s assets, according to Tursi. And, he added, they were “laying the groundwork for her moving into the manager’s position in the event Seaberg were to leave. Technically, I’ve been discussing with Paula her desire to be manager for a couple of years.”

That conversation took on a different tone though, with Seaberg’s letter of resignation.

“I renewed those discussions with her, though with more urgency, soon after Seaberg resigned,” Tursi said the day after the Nov. 8 meeting. “They became more detailed in the last week or so.”

The town has had four different town managers in the past 10 years, and Tursi expects Webb to flip that trend.

“In a many ways, Paula may be the best candidate at this time in our history,” he said. “We need stability at town hall after a series of short-term managers. Paula has been working for the town since 1996. She has the trust and confidence of our staff, and many in town know, like and respect her. She’s probably not going anywhere, at least for a while.”

Webb brings many positives according to Tursi.

“As a longtime government employee, Paula knows and respects the conventions, customs and traditions of local government and our manager-council form in particular,” he said. “She knows, for instance, that all employees report to her and that she answers only to the commissioners. We are confident that she will defend that chain of command and will report if it’s being challenged.”

Tursi also noted that with her appointment, a glass ceiling has been shattered.

“That she is our first female manager is a step forward for the town that shouldn’t be minimized,” he said. “It’s been mostly a good-old-boy network of managers and commissioners. Bringing in a different perspective is a good thing.”

Commissioner Larry Philpott recalled asking Webb if she would consider taking the job of manager and being pleased when she said she would.

With Webb as manager, Swansboro will be able to make greater strides toward efficiency, Philpott said.

“The town has repeatedly experienced extended lags between managers to include the time required to learn staff, the mayor and board of commissioners, the community, town issue (and) concerns and to form an understanding of established goals, ongoing projects and planning initiatives,” Philpott said. “With each change the town has either seen a loss, or change, in focus from that of a preceding manager. Paula provides continuity in that regard.”

As does Tursi, Philpott looks on Webb’s 25 years working with Swansboro as a tremendous advantage. And, he added, Webb “has a clear understanding of the council-manager form of government.”

“Throughout her tenure, Paula has taken advantage of in-service training opportunities,” Philpott also said. “Finally, she has already shown the ability to effectively manage sensitive town concerns. Taking all into account, for me, Paula was a logical choice for the position.”

Like fellow board members, Commissioner Pat Turner also approached Webb.

“I talked with Paula at the candidate forum and asked if she was planning to apply for the town manager position,” Turner said.

Webb possessed the right qualifications, according to Turner.

“Paula has been a long-term successful employee who has been very loyal; she is very experienced and knows the citizens; she is very customer-focused; understands how Swansboro government works; and works well with board members,” Turner said in an email. “Having lost town managers in recent years for a variety of reasons I felt Paula was Swansboro’s best option.”

Commissioner P.J. Pugliese is fully supportive of the hire.

“I think Paula brings a lot to the table as town manager,” he said. “She’s worked for the town for a long time and loves Swansboro, she understands and upholds our style of government, her communication skills with the board are superb, she has a great rapport with the public and I think she has the emotional intelligence to make the tough decisions when needed. I have faith in her abilities and look forward to working with her.”

Except for a brief period in 2015, Webb has worked for Swansboro since June 1996, when she was hired as deputy clerk and permit technician.

Her time away the town came when Jennette Deese retired as clerk to the Carteret County Board of Commissioners and she was hired to take the job.

“I thought it was a good move, but my heart was still in Swansboro,” Webb recalled. “My position had not been filled and the (Swansboro) board brought me back. I was only there for one month.”

In the early years, the town of Swansboro was drastically different from what it is today.

In all, there were about 20 employees. There was a water and sewer department, which has since been given over to the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority, but the fire department was all volunteer and there was no parks and recreation department. Various departments had fewer people. Today, the town has about 50 employees.

Webb was promoted to town clerk and administrative services director in 2001. She served in that capacity until 2019 when she was promoted to assistant town manager and town clerk.

In all those years and in the various capacities, she has gained a keen understanding of the town’s institutional structure that flattens the learning curve.

“I hope that knowledge will be beneficial as we move into the next year and move current projects to completion,” Webb said in an email interview. “Someone unfamiliar with the town, its polices, ordinances and plans would have to be brought up to speed first on those before moving forward comfortably.”

In a similar way, she has knowledge and understanding of the town staff and its capabilities.

“Having handled onboarding of new employees since roughly 2016, I know (the) staff and what and where our strengths and weaknesses are,” she explained.

Not only does she know the people, she knows a lot about the jobs they handle, having handled many of them herself.

When appointed as town clerk she worked with all town boards and was in charge of permitting.

“My first meeting with the board of commissioners was also former Manager Larry Faison’s first meeting,” she recalled. Faison, a military reservist, was called for training and eventually deployed for a year. “During his absence from the town … he entrusted me with covering the office and thereafter other managers did too. He and future managers began encouraging me to take on more than just the daily clerk duties and also left me ‘responsible’ during vacations and time out of the office so serving in this capacity has occurred frequently throughout the years unofficially.”

She explained further, “The appointment as interim manager by the board is official and you are acting as the manager and charged with ‘keeping the ship afloat’ until a new Manager is hired.”

Reaching this point in her career at one time seemed quite remote, Webb admitted.

“It was not until about 2015-2016 I began thinking I may be interested in the position one day,” she said. “The last couple of manager’s and interim managers have been very encouraging. Former Managers Scott Chase and Chris Seaberg invited me to participate in manager duties that I had not been a part of in the past. But, I feel there have been lessons learned from every manager I have worked with.”

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

For more on this story purchase a copy of the Nov. 17, 2021, Tideland News.

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