Tar Heel transplant: Jeff Richardson jumps into county exec role

County exec Jeff Richardson has barely been here three months and already he has cranked out his first budget. Photo by Eze Amos

When Jeff Richardson got a call and an invitation to apply for the open county executive position in Albemarle County, the Tar Heel state transplant says his only tie to the area was a three-week leadership program at the University of Virginia about 15 years ago.

“Those training opportunities had a profound impact on my career,” Richardson says, and he remembered the area as beautiful and interesting. “My wife and I discussed the opportunity and felt that a community that placed such an emphasis on lifelong learning, along with being a wonderful outdoor recreation community, would be a great opportunity for us.”

In November, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors appointed Richardson to succeed Tom Foley and interim county exec Doug Walker.

Richardson moved here from Black Mountain, North Carolina, and has worked in local government for more than half his life. He graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1990, and most recently served as county manager for Cleveland County since 2013.

The county executive establishes a long-term vision for Albemarle and ensures effective and efficient services for its 107,700 residents. He establishes public policy, oversees government departments and agencies and proposes an annual budget.

So after Richardson was offered the job, he and his wife packed up, moved to Albemarle and did what the locals do—they went to Bodo’s Bagels. In fact, he’s now a regular at the Preston Avenue location, situated conveniently behind the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire Road.

“Many of the staff and I have worn a path out walking back and forth,” he says, offering his go-to order. “Everything bagel with egg, bacon and cheese. Also, they have a great Caesar salad that I like with turkey.”

Richardson was introduced to local government by his father, who served as a town manager for more than 20 years.

“The idea of serving others, earning and maintaining the public’s trust and building community is very rewarding,” he says. Richardson reports directly to the Board of Supervisors, and he presented his budget for fiscal year 2019 to them this month (see page 10).

Nearly constant email notifications ping out of the computer speakers in his office, where a framed Asheville Tourists jersey hangs on the wall and a baseball rests on a shelf.

He estimates that he gets about 100 messages a day, and works about 55 hours a week.

“For as rewarding as local government is, it also can be relentless,” he says. “I jumped in to day-to-day operations in an attempt to learn and involve myself as quickly as possible.”

Richardson makes time for family, exercise, watching Ted Talks and teaching at UNC’s School of Government and in the master’s of public administration program.

The father of three describes his family as active, athletic and extremely competitive. “We run, hike, bike, golf, tennis,” he says. “You name it, we are in.”

Teaching, he says, “is the best way I know to force yourself to stay current, continue to learn and grow and push yourself to help others.”

He adds, “I also mess around with the harmonica and love to play—just not in public. Ask my wife and she’ll tell you that she fully supports that.”

Just the facts

Age: 54

Years in local government: 28

Average work week: 55 hours

Hometown: Black Mountain, North Carolina

Experience: Served as county manager in Cleveland County and deputy city manager in Asheville

Hobbies: Sports, fitness, watching Ted Talks and playing the harmonica

Alma mater: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Asheville

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