Blue on deck as manager

LUMBERTON — In a surprise move Tuesday, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners named Finance Director and Assistant County Manager Kellie Blue as county “manager in waiting.”

The item was not on the county’s agenda and originated with Commissioner Roger Oxendine during his routine remarks at the end of the meeting. At least one commissioner objected that the move sidestepped board policy of advertising all positions.

“With Ricky (Harris) on the downside of 120 days, I believe we should appoint someone so we will have a smooth transition,” Oxendine said. “I move that we make Kellie Blue manager in waiting.”

Commissioner Berlester Campbell reminded the board that under Oxendine’s term as chairman, they would advertise all positions.

“We’re stepping outside our policy,” Campbell said. “We need to advertise every position.”

Campbell, who appeared not to vote in the affirmative, objected to the voice vote and called for a show of hands. His request was ignored by Chairman Raymond Cummings, and the meeting ended.

As “manager in waiting,” Blue will become county manager when Harris retires at the end of the year. Blue is also interim county tax collector and neither temporary position comes with a pay raise.

“I’m honored,” Blue said afterward. “I have been involved in every aspect of county government, and as finance director, I have worked with every department.”

Blue has worked 21 years for the county, starting as assistant finance director in 1997. She was promoted to director in 2001 and added assistant county manager to her resume in 2017.

A Pembroke native, Blue is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, with a degree in Accounting. She is a past member of UNCP’s board of trustees and currently serves on the UNC Board of Governors.

In other action, a request for a $12 annual dog and cat tax was referred for further study. County Health Department Director Bill Smith made the request after the Board of Health recommended it.

“This is about responsible pet ownership,” Smith said. “As pets get rabies vaccinations, they will pay a fee and veterinarians will send forms to the county.”

The annual fee would support the animal shelter, Smith said. The shelter has two employees and two temporary employees funded by a grant that expires at the end of the month.

“We have 180 animals at the shelter, and two people cannot operate it seven days a week,” Smith said. “Compared with other counties, Robeson contributes the least per animal in the state.”

Smith estimated the fee would raise $100,000 annually if a third of the pets in the county were tagged and taxed. Two dollars of the annual $12 tax would go to veterinarians to cover paperwork.

“So, we are trying to raise money for the shelter,” Commissioner David Edge said.

“I am requesting two employees,” Smith said.

“Can (jail) inmates be used?” Commissioner Lance Herndon said.

“No,” Smith said. “We have drugs at the shelter that they are not allowed to be around. The prison turned us down.”

The commissioners also approved a fee increase from $10 to $12 for special rabies vaccine clinics that local vets hold twice a year at their clinics. The fee increases to $12 from $10.

The commissioners heard from Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Chavis about a $1.2 million grant for recreational education at Southside-Ashpole and Piney Grove elementary schools. It is a three-year grant.

The 21st century grant is the county’s second. The first grant improved sites at Knuckles Elementary, and Pembroke, Townsend and Littlefield middle schools.

The recreation director also reported that the county contributed more than $25,000 to Lumberton’s recent Dixie Youth Baseball World Series. The contributions were all in-kind and included three tents, lime, trash cans and labor.

Chavis requested money to buy a tractor and drag unit to prep baseball fields. She estimated the cost of a used machine at $8,500.

The request was given conditional approval.

The majority of Tuesday’s meeting was consumed by rezoning and other planning business.

A 40-acre tract off Eddie Sampson Road and adjacent to Comtech Park near Pembroke was rezoned to Commercial Business from Residential Agriculture to make way for an electrical contractor to move from Red Springs to Pembroke.

Mike Woods made the request for his company, which does heavy electrical contracting work. One neighbor objected to possible noise.

A request by Tommy Hunt Sr. to rezone four acres near the Interstate 95 and U.S. 74 interchange from Heavy Industry to Agriculture Residential also was approved.

County Planning Director Dixon Ivey said he checked with Economic Development Director Channing Jones to make sure the rezoning would not interfere with future industry recruitment. The property owners plan to build a second home on the site for family members.

The commissioners also approved the rezoning of 50 acres off U.S. 74 for construction of chicken houses. Christy Locklear made the request.

Commissioners Jerry Stephens missed the meeting.

Kellie Blue, center, has been named the “manager in waiting,” but the Board of Commissioners. Here she confers with Tammy Freeman, county clerk, and Commissioner Noah Woods. Blue, center, has been named the “manager in waiting,” but the Board of Commissioners. Here she confers with Tammy Freeman, county clerk, and Commissioner Noah Woods.

Scott Bigelow

Staff writer

Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or