Former Ashe County manager picked to run new NC rural division

dbracken@newsobserver.comSeptember 13, 2013 

The McCrory administration has named a former Ashe County manager and East Carolina University professor to run a new division charged with overseeing the work previously done by the state’s Rural Economic Development Center.

Patricia Mitchell will be the state’s first assistant secretary for rural economic development at the Department of Commerce, earning $105,000 a year. Her appointment comes three and a half weeks after she was forced to resign as Ashe County manager.

Mitchell is an adjunct faculty member at Appalachian State University, Nova Southeastern University and N.C. State University. She is also an instructor at the N.C. Rural Center Rural Economic Development Institute and the UNC School of Government.

“Pat has the ideal combination of professional experience, policy expertise and passion for rural North Carolina that we need to lead this new division,” Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said in a statement. “As a former county school board member, university professor and instructor, she also understands the important connection between education and economic development.”

Mitchell’s division will take over three major programs that had been overseen by the Rural Center. The state cut off funding and halted the Rural Center’s ability to spend state funds after a critical audit this summer.

The programs that will now be run through the Rural Economic Development Division provide assistance for building reuse and restoration, water and sewer infrastructure, and economic innovation in rural communities. The Division of Community Assistance, NC Broadband, Main Street and the Appalachian Regional Commission are also being consolidated into the new rural division.

Mitchell said on a conference call with reporters Friday that she doesn’t know why three of Ashe County’s five commissioners asked her to resign. “I’ve not been given a reason for that,” she said.

Before being named county manager in January 2012, Mitchell served as Ashe’s economic development director for seven years.

Mitchell received a doctorate and master’s degree in public administration from the University of Georgia. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and language arts from Berry College.

Decker said the Rural Economic Development Division hopes to resume making grants by late October.

The Rural Center will continue to exist, but in a much diminished capacity. It will focus on leadership development and managing some existing loan programs, Decker said.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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