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New city manager knows how to get here

John Connet takes part in a budget workshop with City Council members. John Connet takes part in a budget workshop with City Council members.

John Connet has been around city government all his life.

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He’s worked in local government administration for 21 years, 14 as a manager. He was city manager in Winterville, outside Greenville, N.C., for three years and city manager of Clinton for 11.

The Hendersonville City Council hired Connet to succeed Bo Ferguson, who left after five years to become deputy city manager of Durham. Connet, 43, was selected from a pool of 86 candidates, which the council narrowed down to 15, then eight and then three. He starts here the day after Memorial Day.

If some kids are military brats, Connet grew up as a local government brat; the family followed his dad, Pete, a city manager who still does some interim manager work.

In fact, he comes to Hendersonville with a connection that should make relations easier. County Manager Steve Wyatt knows both Connet and his father. When John was in the city manager’s office in Hickory — as a city planner and then risk manager — Wyatt was in Catawba County administration.

The new Hendersonville manager has as much background west of I-77 as east of it.

He attended high school in Statesville before his family moved to Clinton. He graduated from Western Carolina University and spent seven years in Hickory before taking the Clinton job. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.

“I had always been fascinated with the community and its beauty,” he said of Hendersonville. “Just watching local government, I knew it had a positive reputation. And being that both my parents grew up in Black Mountain and Swannanoa, it looked like a good opportunity for me to get back to the mountains. … My wife’s family is from Morganton.”

Connet said he considered applying when the job was last open five years ago, but decided not to.

“When the opportunity came open again I wasn’t going to let it pass me by,” he said.

Like Hendersonville, Clinton has a utility system.

“I am excited about running a system as advanced and as large as the Hendersonville system,” he said. “That was one of the things that attracted me to the job.”

Does he see regional consolidation as a threat? His answer is vintage manager-ese.

“Obviously that is something that I know the City Council and staff is watching and something I will be keeping a close eye on,” he said. “And I’ll try to work with all parties and do what’s best for everyone.”

He got his first on-the-ground taste of Hendersonville and its financial issues last week when he sat in on the City Council’s budget review. He smiles a little more quickly than his predecessor, the popular Bo Ferguson. Like Ferguson, Connet lets council members guide the discussion, giving advice when called on and stepping in when needed. When council members talked about applying for a federal COPS grant (Community Oriented Policing Services), he reminded the council that the grants only pay for new officers, not currently serving ones.

Connet and his wife, Lori, a high school English teacher, and their two girls, ages 8 and 10, are looking for a home to buy. The city requires him to live in the city limits. In the meantime, the family has rented an apartment in the new Ballantyne Commons on U.S. 64 East.

He’s been active in the community and civic life since he was a teenager.

He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in Clinton and was elected president of the Student Government Association at Western Carolina. He’s also been honored as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International and is certified as a merit badge instructor for the Boy Scouts of America. In Clinton he and his family attended Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder.