BY DEBBIE PAGE
Bryan Gruesbeck, who will assume his duties as Troutman town manager on July 13, is looking forward to leading the staff in a town that resembles the one where he grew up and where his dad still serves on the city council.
Gruesbeck, who was born in Texas but spent his childhood in Michigan, has 20 years of experience in town government, including his recent seven-year stint as town manager in Pittsboro. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism from Central Michigan University and holds a master’s degree in public administration.
His interests include reading, running, cooking, and brewing beer. He is fascinated with sports metrics, citing “Moneyball” as one of his favorite books. “I taught myself about using statistics through fantasy baseball and have translated that skill to my job,” he said.
FEELS LIKE HOME
Gruesbeck feels a “familiarity” with Troutman since most of his personal and public administration experience has been in towns this size. He believes his skills will translate well in helping him determine the town’s needs and helping to shape it to be the place the council and citizens wish it to be.
He will spend his first months getting to know the Town Council, staff, community, and area businesses and get a feel for the issues facing the town. Pittsboro, a town bordering the Raleigh metro area, is facing tremendous growth challenges, much like Troutman.
Every small community facing growth is “keenly aware of its limitations when faced with development,” he said. “I’ve had the conversations about how a community wants to move forward.”
Making agreements and forging relationships with other communities can help smooth the growth process as well as creating public/private partnerships that will benefit the community.
The challenge of balancing growth and charm will help prevent the negative impacts of growth occuring in other areas. “In my humble opinion, Troutman is well-equipped to be able to look at itself and determine where it wants to go as a community and how it’s going to establish that sense of place and what it wants to capitalize on,” he said.
Gruesbeck will help the town’s leaders be in the best position to make the best decisions about place-making concepts and the nuts and bolts of infrastructure. “Our job as staff is to carry out the decisions they make on a daily basis. Hopefully, we can do some good things together here.”
Gruesbeck said he takes pride in his ability to assemble the right people for the jobs they do and creating a team that works well together. He also has experience in “retrenching,” or reducing costs or spending in response to economic difficulty, which will be useful in the economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
He sees a lot of place identification potential with Troutman’s accessibility to the Charlotte metro region, Lake Norman, and Lake Norman State Park. On a recent visit, he was amazed to observe the many people taking advantage of the recreational opportunities, such as the greenways and ESC Park amenities.
Gruesbeck also appreciates the historic downtown area and looks forward to continuing its improvements. “The community’s level of involvement and the service organizations here offer a lot of pluses that I feel passionate about,” he said.
“Troutman has a great opportunity to be a place people talk about. How do we get there and how do we do it?”
Gruesbeck believes Troutman’s aspirations can come to fruition if we “do well day to day — carrying out the council agenda, creating a sound budget, and having an enthusiastic and passionate staff. We just need to practice good government from organizational and strategic perspectives.”
He also wants to develop a strong relationship with the N.C. Department of Transportation to ensure the community has input and mutual communication about road improvements and to create a collaborative effort to move forward elements of the town’s Strategic Master Plan that the NCDOT impacts.
Gruesbeck is pleased with the town’s conservative approach in the just-passed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 in light of the recent economic downturn during the pandemic. “I prefer a conservative budget approach even in the good times,” he said.
Gruesbeck commended the council, Interim Manager Jim Freeman, and the experienced staff for its budget work. He believes his experience during the economic downturn beginning in 2008 in Michigan will be beneficial during this current uncertainty.
“We just have to figure out how to do more with less. I’ve had a lot of experience with trying to be cautious with budget and spending and managing those issues during problems like COVID.”
Gruesbeck will also keep his attention on long-term concerns, such as sales tax revenue and revenue sharing with the state for things like infrastructure. “We have be aware of those issues in a timely fashion and communicate with the council and the public to keep everyone informed and realistic about what we can do.”
“I want to keep the community in a better position to face those challenges going forward.”
PASSION FOR THE JOB AND COMMUNITY
Gruesbeck says he will work hard at his new position. He plans to use a direct style of communication with staff and community members and “will do my best to give an honest assessment and answer.”
He attributes his enthusiasm for working in public administration to “believing in what I do, Small, local government is the most effective governing system in the United States.
“I’m in public service because I see a need to be in public service. It’s part of what keeps me going every day. I like to help. If I’m not going to help, who’s going to?”
Gruesbeck also wants to help improve the climate for businesses in the area and continue the work of the Troutman Business Council. “I’ve served communities that have strong business associations and those that didn’t. The places where business leadership is strong and business partnerships with local government are strong is obvious.”
“When you have active leadership from your business community, it’s much easier to our job from a staff perspective.”
Gruesbeck enjoys being out in the community and staying involved in the areas in which he has served, citing Rotary Club and United Way as two major interests. Being involved in local organizations helps him to connect with citizens and hear their concerns as well as to inform them on town government actions and policy.
He looks forward to moving to town with his wife of 27 years, Beth. The couple has two daughters, one of whom is at home and the other a Fulbright Scholar graduate student in foreign languages at the University of North Carolina.
Gruesbeck will earn $95,000 annually, with $5,000 in moving expenses and a $5,000 bonus once he moves within town limits full time. Other benefits include 15 days paid vacation and 12 sick leave days per year as well as paid health, life, and disability insurance.
He will also receive a $300 monthly auto allowance to use his personal car for town business with additional mileage reimbursement if he travels more than 75 miles from Troutman. He will receive $60 per month for cell phone reimbursement.
The town will also pay 6 percent of his salary into a 401(K) in addition to Local Government
Employees Retirement System contributions.
The town agreed to pay for the costs and expenses for Gruesbeck’s personal professional development and his membership in the International City/County Management Association and the North Carolina City/County Managers Association. The town will also pay for dues associated with his membership in service clubs, with Town Council approval.
Troutman will also pay or reimburse Gruesbeck for reasonable expenses for other memberships, registration fees, travel expenses, travel meals, or lodging incurred when attending business-related conferences, education opportunities, or other meetings, in accordance with the approved annual budget.