HAMLET — Two weeks into his role as city manager, Jonathan Blanton appears as though he’s occupied his office for far longer and said he has enjoyed his transition as successor to Marcus Abernethy.
“I got to spent an entire week with Marcus prior to him leaving,” Blanton said. “So I really enjoyed, with the time I got to spend with him, being able to learn a little bit about a lot in a short period of time. It really helped having the former city manager sit down and brief me on any number of things that were happening with the city.”
He said last week, while shortened by the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday, was officially his first week on his own.
“I have been going around trying to get to know the employees here in the city,” Blanton said. “I’ve been to the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and the Water Department. I’ve been to the downtown coordinator and museum director, spending some time with her. So I’m trying to get to know the employees here in the first few weeks, learn the lay of the land.”
Everyone, Blanton said, has been “incredibly” accommodating and helpful.
“I’m very fortunate to have a great team in place,” he explained. “A lot of hard work went into putting this team in place, so I’m very fortunate to be here with them. The council members have been helpful, working out a reasonable time for me to be able to get started, and they actually set up and facilitated the extra week for Marcus to stay on and for me to work with him. They went above and beyond anything I could have expected to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
He said many of the city council members who have been around for a long time have proven to be “invaluable” for their insight and perspective over the last two weeks.
Not only has Blanton made himself at home at city hall — he’s also found a home not far from his office.
“It’s great, especially coming from Charlotte where I was in a studio apartment,” he said. “One room, one bathroom to the side and kitchen to the side. And now I’ve gone to almost a three-bedroom house, so I don’t know what to do with all that space and room. In uptown Charlotte for a 600 square-foot apartment, we’re talking $1,025 a month — and you can come here and have a house for half of that. It’s certainly a perk of being back in a smaller town, so I am enjoying my house.”
Blanton said he officially moved in only two days ago and added it is much more quiet than when he lived in either Charlotte or Washington D.C. Asked whether there were things he would miss from living in large metropolitan areas, the 24-year-old who was raised in a rural setting, mostly replied with what he likes about being here rather than there.
“It’s convenient to be able to walk down the street to the grocery store if you need a gallon of milk,” he said. “But living here, inside the city limits, is different from where I grew up. I was bused in eight or 10 miles to the closest school, so that was very rural. If you wanted to go to the grocery store or to Walmart, it was a half-hour to thirty-five minute drive to the nearest place. So the adjustment from Charlotte to here hasn’t been that bad, because I can be anywhere within 10 to 15 minutes.”
The hustle and bustle of big cities, Blanton said, with their noisy cars and “people screaming and yelling” drunkenly in the streets at all hours of the night, is not something he will miss.
Among the first items of business for Blanton in his new role, he said, are tying up some lose ends of projects Abernethy had begun before leaving.
“With the electrical car chargers, we have finished that agreement and we’re working toward securing some equipment to have that installed in the near future,” he said. “The bulk of my time has been spent on that, and securing FEMA funds. Today we were working on that, getting all the paperwork filed and ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed to ensure that we get the money that we have been working for, for several months. And budget season’s going to be coming up here in the next couple of weeks, so we’re going to hit the ground running with that.”
Asked whether any townsfolk had wandered in to have a gander at him, Blanton laughed.
“I have,” he said. “Mr. Bradshaw, which is a 101-year-old resident, he came by last Friday and wanted to give me a little tour of Hamlet, so I said, ‘Sure, we’ll go on a little tour.’ I didn’t realize he wanted to drive me around Hamlet, so we pulled out of the parking lot and he gunned it, and all through the city we went. So, I lived to tell the tale there, and he’s been by to see me twice. He’s an amazing individual with lots of stories and a very unique perspective in Hamlet, being here as long as he has.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.