By Tim Gardner
High Country Press reporter Tim Gardner conducted an interview with Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. about his roles and responsibilities of heading the county’s government, how he rates its stability and progress and his observations about those who work individually, yet collectively, to make contributions to its success. Excerpts from that interview follow.
High Country Press: To start off, for those who may not know you and for anyone who may want to learn more about you, what is your personal and professional background?
Barrier: I was born and raised in Avery County. I consider being an Avery Countian the best blessing of my life. I especially love the fact that I’m part of the fifth generation to live on what my paternal grandfather called ‘The Grasshopper Farm.’ The road I live on is even named ‘Grasshopper Lane.’ It’s located on Old Hanging Rock Road, near Toe River, in the Ingalls Community of Avery County.
My parents are Phil and Mitzi Greene Barrier. I have a sister, Diane (Pyatte), and a brother, Charlie Bob. I attended Riverside Elementary School in Spear, graduated from Avery High in 1981 and then received a Bachelor of Science degree from Appalachian State University.
I met my wife of 26 years, Renee, while working as a K-Mart Manager in Wilkes County, NC. I was fortunate to come back to Avery County and raise our family here. Renee and I have two children, a daughter, Kendra, and a son, Joshua. Kendra is married to Kevin Sheets and they live in Wilkes County. They have two children– mine and Renee’s granddaughter, Katlin, and grandson, Luke. Joshua is a student at Wake Tech in Raleigh, where he is working on an engineering degree.
I worked for Sherman Pritchard of Sherman’s Ladies and Men’s Wear in Newland for several years. Later, an Avery County Appraiser’s job became available and I was lucky enough to be hired for it. I served the county in the tax office for 19 years. I often said then that I would like to eventually become Avery County’s Manager and God blessed me with that. And I’m forever grateful for that.
High Country Press: What do you consider the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Barrier: Having such a great and dedicated team of county employees who serve the people of the county. Each county department has exceptional workers who do far more that the job responsibilities for the county’s citizens and all others in need. A few examples include: child protection service employees who sometimes work way past midnight; transportation department workers who go far beyond the call of duty in various ways; and senior center employees and the center’s volunteers who deliver hot meals to needy county residents.
High Country Press: How would you define a good and successful county manager?
Barrier: One who is a good listener and who has an open-door policy.
High Country Press: You work at the leisure of the five-person Avery County Board of Commissioners and of course, foremost, all the county’s citizens. Specifically, what is it like working with the commissioners, your immediate staff which includes an assistant county manager and an administrative assistant as well as the county’s citizens?
Barrier: It is a lot of hard work. Not often can I plan a day’s schedule because it requires much juggling and changing. But when citizens, county employees or county commissioners need me, I can always adjust my schedule to help them with their concerns.
High Country Press: How many department supervisors and employees work under your direction as county manager and what would you like to say about their contributions to the county?
Barrier: Thankfully, we have good employees who operate good departments in Avery County Government. Each department has a director or department chief who reports directly to me. These include: Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Finance, Fire Department Coordination, Garbage, Inspections, Recreation, Tax Office, Senior Center, Transportation and Veterans Affairs. I also work closely with other offices that include: Soil and Water, Social Services, Register of Deeds, Agricultural, Health Department, the Sheriff’s Department as well as all court-related services.
High Country Press: A two-part question: How would you rate the current over-all status of Avery County? And what are the mandates needed for it to be prosperous financially, in services available to its full-time residents and in areas of growth such as tourism?
Barrier: The County is in great financial shape because of the pay-as-we-go attitude of the Board of Commissioners. We still have much to get accomplished, but I believe the government can maintain this policy.
High Country Press: What do you consider yours and the county’s greatest accomplishments during your tenure working in county government?
Barrier: The recognition of the years of dedicated service by county employees during a segment of the commissioners meetings I named ‘Celebrate County Government.’ It will still take another year to recognize all county employees with 15 or more year’s service– even if we honor four employees at every meeting. I think that proves that working for the county is a good job as many of employees stay with it for many years.
High Country Press: What are the greatest challenges for Avery County’s government during the next few years?
Barrier: To keep the services at the level the county’s citizens deserve while controlling costs.
High Country Press: A new swimming pool, agricultural service building and playground complex are either under construction or soon will be for the county. What are your other “pet” projects so-to-speak…. precise objectives that you want to see come to fruition for Avery County?
Barrier: I will be working with the current Board of Commissioners to discuss projects and needs as they arise.
High Country Press: How difficult is achieving and then maintaining consistency in terms of providing the county’s residents all the programs they need through the services their county government provides without, according to the old adage, robbing Peter-To-Pay-Paul?
Barrier: The budget is the key to providing the services needed. Good planning by each county department helps keep the county on a sound financial track.
High Country Press: Last question… What additional comments would you like to make to Avery County’s citizens and all others who read this article?
Barrier: That it’s an honor to serve as county manager in my long-time home. I have, and will continue, to do my job to the best of my God-given ability for all Avery County citizens.