Cabarrus Conversations: Getting to Know City Manager Lloyd Payne
Lloyd Payne was appointed Concord City Manager on April 1 after serving three years as Assistant City Manager. He succeeds Brian Hiatt, who retired after 19 years with the city. We sat down with Lloyd to talk about his first couple of months on the job, why he prefers to “manage by relationships,” how his deployments overseas helped in his new role, and how he earned the nickname “Wide Open.”
Q: You’ve said previously your long-term projects are meeting individually with city council members and department heads, aligning the 2030 Land Use Plan with codes and development ordinances, keeping an eye on available land for future development, and connecting parks and greenways. How are these plans coming along?
A: We have a variety of master plans completed within the last year. Now comes the tough part: making sure they don’t become dust collectors on the shelf. How do we go about that systematically and maintain what we have? We have all this growth going on and expansion of services to accommodate the growth, but we can’t lose sight of what got us here. We can’t expand at the expense of those already living here. We have to take the growth process into consideration for all groups affected – schools, water, sewer, police, fire and others.
They are not making any more land and land is expensive so we’re looking for opportunities as they arise. There are some large vacant pieces of property in the city; we’re engaging the property owners to help us develop small use plans for those areas. We’re also focusing on making sure our parks and recreations system is really, really good. Ideally, we would like to have greenways throughout city that connect to parks and schools and neighborhoods.
Q: There have been several leadership changes within the city – mostly due to retirements – over a short period of time. Mayor Bill Dusch, Assistant City Managers LeDerick Blackburn and Joshua Smith, Communications Director Bethany Ledwell, Planning and Neighborhood Development Director Steve Osborne and Transportation Director Phillip Graham are new in their roles. What are some next steps?
A: With all the transition, I hope to have staff through the learning curve by the end of December. We’re working on a succession plan and where we are as an organization. What are we doing to get our deputy directors ready with the necessary training and resources needed for a director role?
Another priority is enhancing and improving what we’re doing for internal communication. I want to engage employees throughout the organization, not just department heads and supervisors, but the workers. What are they seeing, hearing and feeling in the organization?
If we have a superstar who has been in a department for 10 years but feels like they have maxed out on what they can provide, I don’t want them to leave the city; I want them to go somewhere else in the organization. Maybe they hit the reset button and start another career somewhere else in the city. (The leadership team) is exploring what we can do to cultivate that and formalizing a career development process for each department.
Q: What is your leadership and management style?
A: Brian Hiatt was a phenomenal leader with a great reputation. You can’t fill the shoes of someone like him, so I brought my own shoes to the job. I manage by relationships and am big on getting to know folks. There is not always going to be pomp and circumstance – there’s going to be issue and conflict. It’s so much easier to deal with that if you’ve taken the time to get to know people.
I’m also facilitative in the way I manage. I don’t mind getting all the department heads together and letting them talk about issues and debate things. One of my goals is to make sure everyone is heard. If there is an issue or policy change we’re going to make, I’d rather take the time to discuss what the impact is on each department. How the police and fire department view a policy may be totally different from how the sewer and water departments view it. I’m not the smartest person in the room and I never will be. If I’m smarter than you about your job when you’re the subject matter expert, there is something wrong. Seldom does one person have the best answer, but I think collectively we can come up with good ideas and answers.
I’ve also participated in 360 evaluations to identify my strengths and weaknesses. I like to be transparent, so I gave the results (to the leadership team). I have things I’m decent at and things I’m not so decent at. I want them to help me be better, and in return, I want to help them be better. Eventually, we’ll have all department heads do one of these evaluations for self-awareness and to help drive career development or education.
Q: How have your National Guard and local government experiences complemented each other?
A: I like to joke that the only thing I’ve done longer than the National Guard is live and breathe. I joined at 17, before I was out of high school. My multiple deployments overseas gave me great insight into people and exposed me to a variety of backgrounds and cultures. That has given me a better understanding of who people are, where they come from and what motivates them. I think I can relate to people well because I’ve worked with such diverse groups.
Q: As CEO of the city, your responsibilities include implementing policy decisions, advising the city council, appointing city co-workers, coordinating department operations and preparing an annual operating budget. What are some of the other aspects of your role that aren’t necessarily outlined in a job description?
A: The city has more than 1,000 employees, so there is dealing with conflict resolution and disagreements at all levels. I want folks to know they are important and they are part of this organization and team. I don’t like them to feel like they work for me; I like them to feel like they work with me. I also stay up to speed with legislation and what’s going on in Raleigh. It’s important to talk to legislators about laws that would affect Concord. The mayor and I are getting out into the community and meeting different folks. I also spend time addressing emails and phone calls from residents and putting them in touch with the person or department who can best help them.
Q: Why did the mayor of Elkin give you the nickname Wide Open?
A: I am wide open – I just go, go, go! I have never been one to saunter around. I’m always going somewhere and trying to multitask. I function better if I have a variety of things on my plate. It makes me better, it makes me think more and it makes me depend on others around me and know I can’t do it all by myself.
Q: How did you end up working in local government?
A: I kind of just fell into it. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up in rural NC and didn’t even know what city and county managers were. While getting my master’s degree in public administration, I had a (local government) internship and thought, “This is what I want to do.” It was a whole new world for me. It was challenging and exciting and something I wasn’t familiar with, so it pushed me to learn more. I changed my career focus; the lawyer thing went to the wayside and the rest is history.
Q: How do you balance work and family?
A: I enjoy spending time with family – my wife, Beth, my 11-year-old daughter, Ella, and my 5-year-old son, Liam. It’s important to me to have a good work-life balance and I want the same for everyone else in the organization. The work has to get done, but there is a way to do it and still allow for personal and family time. When I pass away, I don’t want my headstone to say that I was the hardest worker ever and worked more hours than anyone. That means nothing. I want to be a good dad and I want to be a good husband.
Q: What are the best things about living in Concord?
A: I love the location and close proximity to family. Coming from a small community, we really have enjoyed all the options – from sports and restaurants to leisure life. The amenities are just staggering – anything you could want is right around the corner. I also love being a part of a growing city, seeing the changes and opportunities and being part of the decisions that will shape the city for years to come.