Next city manager takes upbeat attitude about leading High Point

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Greg Demko
Greg Demko

by Jordan Green

Greg Demko prepares to take the job of city manager in High Point in January as the new council begins its next term.

High Pointers will get their first opportunity to meet their new city manager on Wednesday at 2 p.m. during a meet-and-greet reception at the Municipal Building.

Greg Demko is expected to put in his first day on the job in High Point on Jan. 12, after wrapping up his current job as an assistant city manager in the Monroe, southeast of Charlotte. The High Point City Council hired Demko by a unanimous vote on Nov. 25, approving a salary of $170,000. In comparison, Randy McCaslin earns $172,001 as interim city manager.

Demko said he’s looking forward to his new job.

“It’s a nice size organization; it’s a full-service city and community with fire and police and all the utilities,” said Demko, who is moving from a city of 32,797 people to one with more than 100,000 residents. “It had the top spot open, and that’s what I was looking for. It’s got a great reputation across the state.”

The current city council was subsumed in turmoil from early 2013 through the middle of 2014 over a number of issues, including employees’ use of city-issued credit cards, a criminal investigation of then-Mayor Bernita Sims, the proposed renaming of a street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., a grievance filed by a departmental head and stalled revitalization efforts. The grievance was resolved around the same time that former City Manager Strib Boynton announced his retirement. In May, the city council voted to reassign Wendy Fuscoe, a city employee tasked with leading revitalizing efforts, angering many community activists.

Boynton’s retirement at the end of June was quickly followed by Sims’ resignation before she pleaded guilty for a felony worthless check charge. Chafing under a reputation for divisiveness, the city council pulled together under the leadership of interim Mayor Jim Davis to accomplish one focused task: hiring a new city manager.

Coming from Monroe, Demko is no stranger to working under politically divided elected leadership. Demko briefly served as acting city manager in Monroe in late December 2013 and early January 2014, according to an article in the Enquirer-Journal, after the city fired former city manager John D’Agostino over concerns about his performance.

“The way I try to work is be apolitical, looking toward providing advice as to what I believe the best options for our community — to provide the council with the best options,” Demko said. “It sounds awkward, but you need to do it with passion, but in a dispassionate manner. Putting together the right plan is dependent on having the vision and mission. That’s already formed with the vision and mission statement that High Point has. So you ask yourself: Is the action you’re proposing going to advance the mission statement?”

Demko is familiar with the revitalization debate that has caused bitter feelings in High Point, specifically surrounding a proposal to reduce the number of traffic lanes on North Main Street to make it more pedestrian oriented.

“I think it’s great that we’ve got a lot of people that are interested in it and want to come up with ideas,” Demko said.

“You open up the dialogue,” he said, explaining how to bring people with different interests together and move the city forward. “You have the right questions, get the stakeholders together and find out what’s common to each. Usually, there’s a lot more commonality than differences.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that the city needs to expand its tax base to reduce the burden on individual taxpayers.

“One of the things High Point has is a pretty active economic-development arm,” Demko said. “It’s got a lot of good transportation pieces, which is key to expanding the tax base. With the highways that go through and around High Point, that’s pretty key.

“Industry, retail, housing development — different types of housing — the one thing that is essential to all of them is access,” he added. “Access is road, airports. High Point has it.”

Two priorities the city council set out for Demko are reforming the process of permitting and inspections in the planning department to make the city more business-friendly and putting together a budget while dealing with legislative changes such as elimination of revenue through privilege licenses.

Demko and his wife are currently trying to sell their house in Monroe, and he will be renting a place for a while when he starts the new job. He said he has no worries about finding ways to relax with his wife in High Point.

“High Point has some nice lakes,” Demko said. “They have the marina. They’ve got a nice array of restaurants. My wife and I like to go out to eat. There are also a couple golf courses. There are three good ways to relax.”

Before Demko even gets started, a new council — his bosses — will be sworn in. On Dec. 8, reception will be held to honor outgoing council members Becky Smothers, Britt Moore, Foster Douglas and Judy Mendenhall. Then, the new council — with Bill Bencini as mayor and newcomers Cynthia Davis, Chris Williams and Alyce Hill joining former councilman Latimer Alexander and returning members Jeff Golden, Jay Wagner, Jim Davis and Jason Ewing — will be seated.