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December 31, 1999
Salisbury Post; Rowan County, NC

Local News

Newsmaker of the year: David Treme

BY MARK WINEKA
SALISBURY POST

           
Dave Treme wakes about 5:30 each morning, showers, walks the dog and, for at least an hour, prays.

Every day, he prays for Salisbury, the city that has made him its top disciple for the past 14 years.

In a personal moment and almost sheepishly, the city manager acknowledges that he also prays for the mayor, councilmen, department heads, employees and all citizens of Salisbury.

And he’s only getting started. Treme follows a pattern of prayer — an expansion of the Lord’s Prayer — that he teaches Wednesday nights at his church.

Mixed in with the reams of city-related papers in his briefcase are books on prayer: most recently, “The Jericho Hour,” “Becoming a Prayer Warrior” and “Releasing the Prayer Anointing.”

“He’ll take his lunch hour many times and come over to the church and pray,” says the Rev. Glynn Dickens, Treme’s pastor at Rowan Christian Assembly.

Treme is an inward-looking man in a job that earns considerable outside attention. The past year, 1999, was no exception.

While city government experienced its share of success, disappointment and challenges, Treme personally had a higher profile year than usual. With that in mind, the Post Editorial Board chose him as its “Newsmaker of the Year.”

In 1999, Treme won praise for his method of involving the community in helping him choose a new Salisbury police chief, Chris Herring.

With his choice, however, Treme heard several citizens criticize him for not hiring a homegrown applicant.

Treme also became the public lightning rod when he retroactively enforced a personnel policy of not allowing married couples to work in the same city department.

The decision meant the loss of police and fire department spouses with decades of experience. At the time, Treme called it the hardest personnel decision he ever had to make but one he felt was necessary for the organization’s good.

Critics characterized Treme’s tactics as heavy-handed, though the city gave the affected spouses a year to secure another job and offered extensive help in finding them new positions with the city or elsewhere.

For one of the few times, Treme’s performance became an election issue, albeit a minor one. Treme also had come to symbolize to many taxpayers questionable city spending on community park land, a new city hall, the old Towne Mall, the former Flowers Bakery and an unpopular annexation.

But when asked to grade Treme’s job as city manager during the election, all five incumbent Salisbury City Council members gave him an “A.”

In December, those same council members, all re-elected, raised Treme’s salary to $104,844 a year.

“He’s a real thinker,” says former Mayor Margaret Kluttz. “He carefully moves through what the priorities are and when it’s important to go to the mat for the city. It’s not his job to be popular.”

His blueprint

Much of what city government tackled in 1999 reflects principles Treme has preached since coming to Salisbury in February 1986.

Treme’s blueprint for managing the city stresses public-private partnerships, for example. The city made a major public commitment to the Flowers Bakery Redevelopment Area downtown this year, hoping its investment in infrastructure will augment some $13 million in private redevelopment.

The 314-acre Salisbury Community Park and Athletic Complex, under construction off Hurley School Road, has combined $3 million in voter-approved bond money with $1.5 million in state and private contributions.

Treme also lives by a philosophy that citizens accept hard decisions when they have been part of the process. He routinely quotes the proverb that there is wisdom in a multitude of counsel.

Treme put his finalists for police chief through a day of interviews with four different citizen committees and then asked those committees for their favorites.

Before even reaching that stage, city consultants interviewed Salisburians and asked what they were looking for in a new police chief.

It carries over. Since his hiring, Herring has asked citizens to develop a crime control plan for his department.

Improvements in the Park Avenue neighborhood began taking shape in 1999, thanks to the drive of citizens in that area. The city, foundations and non-profit groups stand as their partners, providing the funds for a complete renovation of Cannon Park, restoration of Tar Branch creek, construction of affordable houses on North Shaver Street and renovation of dilapidated homes on East Cemetery Street.

‘Armor of God’

Treme also weathered major disappointments in 1999. The N.C. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the city erred in its biggest annexation attempt ever, reversing an earlier trial court’s decision supporting the city.

Without another reversal by the state Supreme Court, the city will have to start over its effort to expand its tax base to the west and south.

Early in the year, Treme learned of the closing of three industrial plants in Salisbury, including the city’s biggest water customer, Cone Mills. While the losses eased some capacity problems, they also meant the loss of considerable revenues.

Council offset those losses by raising water bills after Treme and his staff presented the sobering news.

As part of his morning prayers, Treme likes to clothe himself with the “armor of God,” a shield of faith helpful in these trying times. People who know him say he relies heavily on his faith as he takes on the issues of the city.

Treme describes himself as a “Christian under construction.”

“His faith filters out into every area of his life,” Dickens, his pastor, says. “He is a man not only of great intellect but with great wisdom in dealing with issues and people.”

Treme co-chairs the prayer ministry at Rowan Christian Assembly. The church has prayer and intercession before its services on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights.

As part of the prayer ministry, Treme visits congregation members at home and prays for those in need. He also teaches Sunday School.

“I would consider him one of the most dynamic lay persons that I have ever worked with in the ministry,” Dickens says. “He is very stable, strong and has a tenacity in sticking with those things he has a firm belief in.”

Kluttz, who served on council for eight years, including six as mayor, says Treme’s religion and family come first in his life but his faith, for one, never interfered with his job.

“It’s just very strong, very personal and very foremost in his life in guiding his morals and convictions,” Kluttz says. “That’s part of who Dave Treme is. But I think he’s also a very bright and intelligent individual who’s been given the gift of being a good thinker.”

Bill Hallman oversees operations at the Civic Center and has been a friend of Treme’s for about nine years. They served together on the Teen Action Council, an organization serving the county’s youth.

“He’s a man of faith, number one, and a man of integrity,” Hallman says. “He’s a people person, also. He’s genuinely concerned about Salisbury and the people of Salisbury. He wants the very best quality of lifestyle for everyone and makes it a point to hear what people say.”

Hallman adds that Treme makes himself accessible, is a leader rather than follower and knows how to get the best out of people.

“He’s an encourager — gracious day!” Hallman says.

Mellowed

Treme, now 52, believes he has changed considerably from the young man who came to Salisbury from his city administrator’s job in Georgetown, S.C.

“I think, over the time, I have mellowed,” he says, crediting a deepened relationship with Christ.

Treme says he is more comfortable with who he is and the role he plays in local government. He describes himself as a more positive person than he was 14 years ago. Looking back, Treme says he had a brashness that assumed hard work could conquer any problem.

When he came to Salisbury, Treme brought goal-setting with him. Within a a few months, he took council members on a Winston-Salem retreat at which leaders reached their first real consensus on the direction the city wanted to take.

“From that point, we became more focused as a city,” Treme says. “That’s the basis of my working with elected officials. That’s the only way I know to be successful.”

Treme next established the framework toward getting all city employees working on these common goals, as well as their own. The goal-setting has become doctrine in the city and spread to other government agencies and organizations in the county.

Treme found another benefit.

“I wanted to be evaluated on the goals that City Council set,” he says.

Treme’s other management philosophies include employee problem-solving, which pushes down decision making to workers in the field.

He also has emphasized professional standards, whether it be a Class 2 fire rating, national accreditation for the police department, an A-1 bond rating or certificates of excellences for city finances. Kluttz describes him as “an extraordinarily professional person.”

Dickens adds, “He has a clear-cut vision concerning the development of the city of Salisbury. That’s been one of the most impressive things about him that I’ve observed over the years.”

Council members often hear Treme speak of “levels of service.” He gives council options on the levels of service it could provide to citizens and what each level costs.

Through the years, Treme also has pushed the city to stay technologically in step with the private world. It’s something he takes pride in.

“He has commanded an enormous respect from the community at large when they look at the long-term accomplishments of this man,” Kluttz says.

‘Overcomers’

Raised in Columbia, S.C., Treme came from a disciplined family, owing to his father’s career in the Army. His parents taught him, his three brothers and a sister to value education, church and books.

They were never one for handouts. No one was ever late to dinner. Their father taught them how to use the resources at hand, “and you don’t quit early,” Treme says.

“Only if you were sick did you miss church,” he adds.

Relatives often sent cousins to the Treme household for a “year of adjustment” to get them on the right track.

After his father, a retired Army major, died when Treme was 19, his mother went back to school at age 46. She earned her college degree and began teaching public school at age 50.

“We were not easily discouraged,” Treme says of his family. “We felt like we were overcomers.”

Treme became student body president in high school. In his senior year, the yearbook labels him “best school citizen.” Always interested in leadership, he won the S.C. Elks Leadership Award in high school before applying to Harvard and the University of South Carolina.

Treme considered three career paths: the law, the ministry and local government. He says he accepted the Lord at age 9 and had deepening experiences at age 22, 38 and 50.

Treme recalls first considering a career as city manager when his mother showed him a library book on careers.

“I had never heard of a city manager but ended up feeling that was my calling,” Treme says.

Treme’s early employment gave clues to his future. With a loan from his father, Treme bought a lawn mower at age 16 and quickly set up a summer service for more than 30 lawns, priced at either $3 or $5 a mowing.

Because of the number, he had to subcontract many of the lawns to friends.

“I always tried to do one more thing than the customer asked,” Treme recalls. “I’d try to give them 110 percent value.”

He majored in journalism at the University of South Carolina with a minor in political science. He followed up with a master’s degree in public administration.

When he came to Salisbury, the young Treme already had 12 years of experience as city administrator in Mauldin, S.C., and Georgetown.

His faith always served as the foundation for career choices.

“I’ve tried it without Him, and I’ve tried it with Him,” Treme says, “and this way works best.”

‘This was the place’

Not surprisingly, Treme prayed before and after his interview for the Salisbury job.

“As I approached the city limits, I felt that this was the place I was going to be city manager,” he recalls. “Somehow, I knew I was going to be here.”

At the time, Treme already had interviewed for the city manager’s job at Staunton, Va., as part of his job search for a mid-sized town in the Southeast. Salisbury had received 124 applicants from 32 different states.

Treme couldn’t ignore his overwhelming feeling that Salisbury was calling him.

“It didn’t surprise me when they offered me the job,” he says.

Over the years, other cities in and out of North Carolina have asked Treme to apply for their city manager positions. Treme says he has given “prayerful consideration” to those requests, but “I don’t know that I’ve been released yet.”

“I’ve always known when it was time to go.”

Treme and his wife, Karen, have a son, Robert, and daughter, Julianne. Robert works in labor relations for General Motors in Michigan, and Julianne is a junior economics major at Elon College.

Treme applied his goal-setting approach at home, often sitting down with his children and mapping out some of the things they wanted to accomplish. The father served as facilitator of sorts.

“When you write them down or talk about them, they get done,” Treme says of individual goals.

Treme credits his wife for doing the hard work of making sure things were done after the family goals were set.

Beyond church, Rotary Club and professional organizations he strongly believes in, Treme has few outside interests beyond his family and work. He routinely consults the Bible and reads an inspirational book every week to 10 days.

“I’m into seeking the Lord,” Treme says, describing it as “checking in with the Source.” “I’m praying all the time. Praying is no more than talking to the Lord.”

On a few occasions, Treme might venture onto the golf course with Councilmen Bill Burgin and Scott Maddox and landscaper Johnny Safrit.

“The golf is lousy,” Treme says, “but the fellowship and fun is at a high level.”

Today’s more positive, grounded Treme expresses optimism for Salisbury’s future, believing each community has its time and season and Salisbury’s has arrived. The key will be managed growth, not growth for growth’s sake, Treme says.

“I feel like God has blessed our community,” he adds.

   

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