For Paul Cox, it didn’t matter if the job was as routine as turf maintenance, as painful as snow and ice removal or as ugly as roadkill cleanup.
What mattered to Cox as Garner’s public works director was that the job was done right, and that the work he did made the town a better place to live, work and play.
“I believe in the concept of service to the community and I believe at public works we worked real hard for a long time to increase professionalism and upgrade our image,” Cox said Tuesday while on a getaway in the mountains.
Cox has retired after 24 years with the public works department, serving the past 12 years as its director. His final day on the job was Friday, Nov. 18.
Town Manager Rodney Dickerson said Cox’s leadership skills will be missed.
“This biggest thing is public works is thrown a lot of different tasks, and he was always very responsive and ensured the work got done fast and in a quality manner,” Dickerson said. “He was passionate about his work and his employees – he always tried to look out for what was best for them.
“Public works is often an adverse line of work. He balanced that with what were the best interests for his employees and the town.”
Laying a foundation
The variety of Cox’s responsibilities was something he came to appreciate over the years.
“There was always a different challenge,” Cox said. “It’s just a lot to learn: ball fields, bridge repair, helping police out, snow plowing, storms that kind of take on a life of their own. You just kind of go along with it – be prepared as best you can and be ready.”
He achieved one of his career goals in 2014, when the town’s public works department became the first in the state to earn accreditation from the American Public Works Association.
That feat involved complying with best practices laid out by the national organization, and in doing so forming detailed instructions on how to carry out the 299 public works duties that apply in Garner. Cox views it as laying a foundation for the town’s future.
“The next person that comes in my place has excellent training material there – everything is written down and how to do it,” Cox said. “Like they say, hopefully you left the place better than you found it. Our staff, I believe, is better respected and recognized as the professionals they are. They train a lot and work hard for the town and do a lot of things a lot of people wouldn’t do, frankly, and never complain about it.”
Cox grew up in Garner and graduated from Garner High in 1973. He attended UNC-Wilmington for a couple years before pursuing an associate’s degree in civil engineering from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
He worked as an engineering technician for area power companies and got into construction before joining Garner’s staff as the streets and buildings maintenance supervisor.
“I was excited to get an opportunity to work for the town,” Cox said. “Streets and buildings was something I enjoyed. I had a background in commercial construction before I came to the town. This kind of fell right in with it. It was nice to serve a lot of the people I knew and and heard of as I grew up.”
Cox was promoted to operations manager as the public works department took on parks maintenance duties, and then again to public works director when Bill Rudy retired in 2004.
For his own retirement, Cox has plenty of options for spending his time.
“My wife, Sheila, has been retired about a year and a half now, so were just going to try and enjoy some fun traveling,” he said. “We also got our first grandkid this year. Our oldest daughter lives in Morehead City and we have a house in the mountains, so we’re going to do some time share between the beach and the mountains and Garner.”
Dickerson appointed Forrest Jones as the interim public works director until a permanent replacement for Cox is named.
Similar to Cox, Jones was hired in 2001 as the department’s streets supervisor, promoted to operations manager in 2005 and named assistant public works director in 2010.