He’s glad to call Smithfield home
One year ago I retired from the Town of Smithfield after 30 years of service and began a career with the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. I now travel across the state helping communities in their efforts to obtain grants and improve their parks and recreation services. In turn, such efforts improve the quality of life for citizens and help make these communities more inviting to businesses, new residents and visitors.
Unfortunately, because of my new responsibilities, I am unable to be as connected to Smithfield and the many great things going on here as I once was. However, on July 24, I was fortunate enough to represent my division at the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the artwork of two very talented local Girl Scouts. Sarah Gaskins and Clar McGeough painted a beautiful mural on the underside of the Neuse River Bridge along the Buffalo Creek Greenway. The mural depicts many notable landmarks along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Deservedly so, it has gotten statewide attention and accolades.
I left the ceremony and went to Community Park, where for the ninth time in a dozen years, Smithfield was chosen to host a Tar Heel Leagues state youth baseball or softball tournament. These tournaments bring thousands of folks to our community from across the state, making a significant impact on our local economy. The next day in Smithfield, newly renovated Smith-Collins Park was a happening place, as many families and children took part in another successful Community Fun Day.
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In addition to these events, which help define a community and are the norm rather than the exception in Smithfield, the town has made great strides in its everyday operations and financial well-being. Under the direction of Town Manager Paul Sabiston, Smithfield has gotten through some difficult litigation situations; has increased the fund balance, or cash reserves, from less than 5 percent to over 40 percent; completed the Smithfield Crossings road project; completed the electric-assets sale to Duke Power, which will lower electric rates in our community; obtained a $350,000 grant for the Miracle League Field and inclusion playground, which will help meet the recreation needs of special-needs children in our community; and developed a mentoring program that pairs town department heads with Smithfield-Selma High School students. These are just a few examples.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Sabiston has surrounded himself with a great team of department heads and staff members who have one goal in mind: to make Smithfield the very best it can be. It is amazing what has been accomplished in three short years, and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds.
Likewise, the Town Council has been instrumental in helping to navigate beyond some troubled waters, and council members, along with Mr. Sabiston, can now focus on more of the positives surrounding Smithfield, rather than the negatives.
I recently received the ultimate compliment regarding Smithfield as I was visiting a small town in southeastern North Carolina. As I was getting to know this particular town manager, I told him where I was from, and he immediately began to sing the praises of Mr. Sabiston’s leadership and Smithfield in general, saying, “What tremendous possibilities and resources Smithfield has in its palm. I wish we had half of what you have.”
No, we are not perfect. We still have issues to work on, and that will never change, just as it will never change in any other town or community in North Carolina, or across the United States for that matter. There will always be challenges, and how we approach those challenges will help identify Smithfield to others and brand us as a community.
As I was leaving the ribbon-cutting ceremony mentioned earlier, I heard a prominent and well respected businesswoman say, “Smithfield is such a great place ... .we need to get the word out.” I carried that thought with me throughout the weekend as I witnessed and reflected on all the good things about Smithfield. So there you have it. This sequence of events spurred me to share with anyone who will listen why I am proud to call Smithfield home, and I hope you are too.
Tim R. Johnson
Note: Mr. Johnson read this letter at Monday’s council meeting.