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Commissioners, employees thank Wyatt as he retires

County Manager Steve Wyatt (right) grimaces as John Mitchell, the new county manager, speaks. County Manager Steve Wyatt (right) grimaces as John Mitchell, the new county manager, speaks.

Officially the director of business and community development, John Mitchell has spent eight years under County Manager Steve Wyatt doing thread-the-needle assignments.

If a project involved moving parts and potential landmines and required delicate diplomacy, Mitchell was the Wyatt’s man.

“One thing we all know is that Steve’s door is always open,”  Mitchell said at Wyatt’s retirement reception last week. “You walk in the door and there are only about four or five things he’ll say. The first is, ‘Yes?’ and the second is, ‘No.’ The third is, ‘What have you got to say for yourself?’ I usually say, ‘I’m sorry.’ And the fourth is my favorite: ‘What have you done for your country today?’”

Mitchell, who has been appointed county manager on a six-month contract, joined the elected commissioners who have been Wyatt’s boss in thanking him for his 15 years of service. During Wyatt’s service, the county has built numerous public schools, the Pardee-Wingate Health Sciences Center and the new emergency services center, added recreation buildings and acquired or improved parklands, committed to the new Hendersonville High School and taken the lead on the Ecusta Trail.

“It’s been the highlight of my professional career,” Wyatt said. “What am I most proud of is the people. They do it every day, if you look at Rescue Squad, sheriff’s department. One day maybe people will recognize how much sacrifice people make.”

Wyatt came on board in 2006 as the county was heading into the Big Recession and tension was rising between the School Board and the elected board.

“The first couple years here was tough — remember the politics,” he said. “And the financial situation was a real tug of war and there were some things that needed to be done and you had some people that were risk averse — to me it wasn’t risk because I knew what the hell I was doing and I knew we could go step by step.

“Those were the tougher years,” he said. “And you remember the situation like with the School Board” demanding more funding.

“If you don’t have any money, how do you give people money? What I told finance, until we get our house order, you can’t think about doing this, that and the other,” including new schools the School Board called for. “Eventually that happened and I think we’ve done about as well as anybody could.”

Mitchell and the board presented Wyatt with the first Henderson County flag that flew over the Historic Courthouse.

Commission Chair Bill Lapsley said he was confident that Wyatt will succeed in his next assignment — “and I’m confident there will be a next assignment.”

“He has dedicated the last (15) years to making sure our county is not only financially stable and secure but not only that,” Vice Chair Rebecca McCall said. “He has shown that he really cares about each and every one of us deeply. My biggest wish is that he stays here, I hope he will, and that he continues to participate and we are really going to miss him being a part of our everyday lives. He was the second person I spoke with when I decided to run for office and he was the person that made me aware that it’s not just government but the government is a business. And when I realized the government is a business I became confident moving forward.”

In his 15 years as county manager, Wyatt served under four board chairs and alongside four school superintendents, three BRCC presidents, four sheriffs and four congressmen representing the 11th Congressional District.

As for the next chapter, Wyatt, 62, said he wants to stay in Henderson County and that he’s not done serving.

“There’s something out there for me,” he said.  “I’m not leaving here. I’ve got opportunities to do stuff here.”