Lenoir councilman, longtime city manager Lewis Price will not run for re-election

Jul. 28, 2013 @ 07:13 AM

Lenoir City Councilman Lewis Price has spent the majority of his life working for local governments, including a few decades in Lenoir. But as filing for the next round of local elections closed July 19, he left his name off the list of candidates.

“Sixty years is a pretty long time. Most of my life I’ve been in local government,” Price said, and he’s ready to move on.

Price, 79, has left his mark on Lenoir in its inner workings: the budgets, roads and infrastructure, and in a more literal way -- a small street downtown is named in recognition of his service to the city.

Most of his work in government has been as a city manager, but his most recent position has been on the Lenoir City Council, where he has served since 1999 aside from a few months as interim city manager before the hiring in 2004 of Lane Bailey, who remains city manager today.

During his tenure with Lenoir, Price has overseen a wide range of initiatives but is most proud of the improvements to the city’s infrastructure, including sewage treatment plants, road resurfacing and the renovation of downtown. He has also helped the city build fire stations and renovate the former First Union Bank building into City Hall.

Bailey said Price has “great vision for the community,” and has been an advocate for long-term financial planning and capital improvement plans, and said that Price understands budget impacts and the multi-year effects of decisions on a city’s budget.

Mayor Joe Gibbons has known Price all his life -- Price was city manager when Gibbons' father was mayor -- and said he owes Price for helping him to get his first job in Lenoir, a position with the planning department straight out of college.

Gibbons described Price as outspoken, saying, “You always know where he stands.”

Price’s direct, straightforward and no-nonsense nature is a constant in conversations with those who have worked with him.

“The thing I admire most about Lewis is that you never have to wonder where he stands on an issue,” Councilman Todd Perdue said. “And at the end of the day, he is able to come to agreements with people that have different opinions and work for the common good of the city.

 “I don’t know of an elected official or former administrator in this entire state that is more respected than Lewis Price,” Perdue said.

Mayor Pro Tem T.J. Rohr knows Price’s views on local government as well as anyone due to routine disagreements -- Rohr said that through the nine or 10 budgets they have worked on together, they voted the same way probably twice, and then for different reasons.

But Rohr said he respects Price, who has always respected Rohr's viewpoint, was willing to listen and has always done what he felt to be in the best interests of the residents in Lenoir.

“He’s been a very important man in the history of the organization known as the City of Lenoir,” Rohr said.

Price was born in Gaston County and began his career in government there at the age of 18, doing surveying and drafting in the engineering department as an intern while in college. After graduating college, Price joined the Army, where he was stationed in Fort Jackson in South Carolina, serving for 10 years, mostly in the reserves.

In 1957 Price married Carol Carter, the daughter of the Gastonia city manager, and lives with her today in Lenoir. Carol Price taught school for 39 years before retiring and shares a daughter, son and three grandchildren with Lewis.

Upon returning from active duty, Price went to work for Carol’s father at city hall in Gastonia, doing job studies in different departments before he was offered a position as administrative intern with Lee Ribet, city manager of Valdese. Then, in 1959, on the recommendation from the Gaston County manager, Mount Holly called, asking Price to be their city manager. He took the position, serving until 1964, when Lenoir mayor Harper Bell called Price, interviewed him and hired him.

Price was the first manager Lenoir ever had. Previously, the city clerk performed the duties of a city manager.

Price spent 20 years at the job before taking the same position in High Point, where he served for 17 years before retiring and returning to Lenoir.

Price said he’s disappointed about not having a thriving business environment downtown and about the city’s aging, failing infrastructure, but he is pleased with the work being done by Bailey -- who he called the finest city manager in the state -- and other staff in City Hall.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with some really good people,” Price said.

But Lewis Price is a name recognized in cities and towns across North Carolina, in Raleigh as easily as in Lenoir.

Ellis Hankins, the executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, has worked with Price for many years, including during Hankins' previous work as a lawyer and lobbyist in Raleigh. Two years ago, at the League of Municipalities Annual Conference, Price was recognized along with another retired city manager serving as a council member for 50 years of working in municipal government, and 50 years with the league, the only two people to ever hit both of those benchmarks.

“Lewis Price has an amazing record of public service as city manager in a number of municipalities,” Hankins said. “I can’t imagine that that record will be matched by many other North Carolinians.”