NC: Tom Lundy, Catawba County, County Manager

Posted on April 17, 2014

ELGL green icon

Resetting the 50 Nifty Project

Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.

Our Take on North Carolina

We’re back in the “Old North State” to hear from Tom Lundy, Catawba County Manager. On our previous visits to NC, we heard from Mitchell Silver and Eric Peterson. We connected with Tom through Rafael Baptista, ELGL SE Advisory Board member and UNC MPA student. Rafael is about to see a lot of Tom during an upcoming work experience in Catawba County.

downloadFor those of you who missed our two visits to North Carolina, let’s get you up to speed on North Carolina. The Old North State is home to Andy Griffin, Michael Jordan, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Pepsi, and Krispy Kreme. The unofficial song of North Carolina is “Carolina on My Mind” by James Taylor, right? Not necessarily, some newer North Carolina residents might point to “Raise Up” by Petey Pablo. The rapper spends most of the song naming the many small cities and towns in North Carolina. Who knew Petey Pablo was so civic minded!

North Carolina is a strong proponent of the council-manager form of government. It’s largest cities Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Asheville, and Winston-Salem all employ a city manager. An MPA is almost as common as an MBA in North Carolina with more than 10 schools offering an MPA.

Unfortunately, a well educated workforce does not completely eliminate bad laws from being passed, as evident by these:download (1)

  • Asheville:  If you have to sneeze you better not do it on a city street! Sneezing on city streets is illegal.
  • Charlotte: Women must have their bodies covered by at least 16 yards of cloth at all times.
  • Kill Devil Hills: You may not ride a bicycle without having both your hands on the handle bars.
  • Rocky Mount: It is required that you must pay a property tax on your dog.
  • Greensboro: Restaurants “with on sidewalk dining” must post their menu so that it is clearly readable from the sidewalk, but is not readable from the street.

Background Check on Tom

Connect: LinkedIn

TomLundy_smCatawba County’s Manager is Tom Lundy, who has served as manager for 30 years. The Board of Commissioners designates a County Manager as the chief administrator, under State law, for all departments under the Board’s general control. His duties include supervising the appointment of county officers, employees or agents, except those elected by the people or whose appointment is otherwise provided by law; supervision of all county departments, boards, commissions and agencies under the general control of the Board of Commissioners; preparation and submission of an annual budget; and any other reports and duties required or authorized by the Board of Commissioners.

Mr. Lundy works directly with the Board of Commissioners, and has primary contact with Catawba County’s three public school systems and Catawba Valley Community College; Catawba Valley Medical Center; and the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation; as well as the County Attorney, Emergency Services, Human Resources and U,tilities and Engineering departments, the Sheriff’s Office and the Register of Deeds Office.

Background Check on Catawba County

Connect: FacebookTwitterWorld Wide Web, and YouTube

Catawba County, North Carolina, is located in the western part of the State in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Catawba County’s estimated July 1, 2012 population of 155,353 included the inhabitants of its eight municipalities. It was established on December 12, 1842 and, on January 8, 1845, Newton was selected as the County seat.  It was one of the first counties of the 100 counties in North Carolina to adopt the county manager form of government (March 1, 1937). The Board of Commissioners has five members elected on an at-large basis to staggered four year terms.

Catawba County is part of the data center corridor. Maiden is home to the Apple iCloud data center, and the largest solar farm in the United States.


  • Dale Jarrett-NASCAR Driver.1999 Winston Cup Champion
  • Pauletta Pearson Washington- wife of actor Denzel Washington, Actress.
  • Rick Barnes- Coach for Texas Longhorns men’s basketball.
  • Tori Amos-Musician songwriter.
  • Chris Hughes-Co-founder of Facebook.

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

My parents were Methodist missionaries in the Phillippines and Singapore, so we were guests in a foreign country.  My parents told us to be mindful of how we acted, because others were watching us and drawing conclusions about America, the Methodist Church and our family.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?

The Four Tops, Robert Earl Keen, Band of Horses and The Beatles.  What’s not to like in that grouping?



Before I die I want to ….

….travel for fun– including Cuba before it Westernizes and St. Petersburg—and get to spend time with all my grandchildren (present and future).

Three most influential books in your life.

I love to read, and read a lot, so for me it’s less about a specific book than what I learn from a genre.  First, I like reading about Presidents–the history during their lives and terms of office, their campaigns, the challenges and opportunities of governing, and the lessons in time.  Second, I enjoy reading about leadership, the qualities that go into selecting and leading people.  Third, I enjoy mysteries–a little fictional escape never hurt anyone!!

If you could Face Time with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?images

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • John Lennon
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • and eavesdrop on FDR and Winston Churchill’s wartime strategy conversations.

Describe the inside of your car. Fairly clean, with my iPod hooked up for constant music!

What’s the meaning of life? Do good, and have a little fun!

Q & A with Tom


Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • strong council-manager form of government
  • long tradition of professional management
  • progressive, well-respected

What was your dream job as a 12-year old?  What was your first local government job?  Now did you end up in local government?

When I was 12 I wanted to be an astronaut.  I collected autographed pictures of the original astronauts, followed space flights, and built model rockets and capsules.

My first local government job was a year-long internship in Catawba County as part of the graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The position title was Administrative Coordinator, and among my tasks were the development of a personnel function, and establishing controls on county vehicles, maintenance and credit card use.  It was an interesting year trying to corral the longstanding lack of controls.

I ended up in public administration because of an Associate Professor.  I was headed for probably an international law degree when, during my junior year in undergraduate school, a professor of public administration was hired.  He got his class involved in a local city-county consolidation effort.  He had us research the probable impact on police, fire, library and other services if consolidation was approved; survey voters; hold public forums to explain consolidation and its impact; and predict the vote (which failed, as most consolidation efforts do).  Even though the voters said “no””, I was hooked on local government–you could see the direct impact of decisions on people!

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

1. Creating and sustaining over 35 years an organizational culture in Catawba County of professionalism, creativity and nonpartisanship.

2. Being the first county in North Carolina to provide countywide curbside recycling in 1990. Today, Catawba County is # 1 in recycling among North Carolina’s 100 counties!


3. I’ve hired a lot of people who today are in local government management positions.  I’ve also hired MPA interns and five ICMA Fellows, all of whom are working in local government.

We often learn from our mistakes.  Name one or two career mistakes you made that you think we could learn from.

download (3)Although I’ve had great success with key hires, I’ve made some hiring mistakes.  The whole process of recruitment is intriguing to me, because you don’t know if you’ve made a good hire until you know (and then it’s sometimes too late!).  Hiring mistakes are costly, in time, money, and frustration.  I’m continually trying to refine the process to improve the hire.

I could have been more aggressive pushing development standards the last time we redid our Unified Development Ordinance.  We got a lot accomplished, but made some trade-offs I wish we had resisted.

Many friends and family think we’re a planner or a mayor–has this been your experience?

No.  My conversations with friends and family have been more around clarifying what services and role local government provides.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

  • Better community engagement of citizens–both corporate and individual.
  • Ensuring that employees are trained and encouraged to be ambassadors of local government.
  • More partnerships–so that when the non-profit or private sectors are delivering services they’re also representing local government.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes!  If you like working with people, and a job where you can see the difference you make in people’s lives, local government is the best career opportunity.

If we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.work1

  • Make sure you’ve done your homework on the organization, the job and on me.
  • Come with thoughtful questions.
  • Get to the point–long answers aren’t always a good indication of competence or fit.
  • Show me what you’re passionate about.

Name three of your mentors.

  • David Hunscher was the manager that first hired me.  He taught me the value of professionalism and pushed me out of my comfort zone.
  • Professor Jae T. Kim sparked my interest on local government.  If he hadn’t come along, my career would have been in an entirely different field.
  • My Dad enjoyed helping others, and was good with people; I think that attribute rubbed off on me.  He was much more patient, though!

In 2018, local government will be ….

…more vital to citizens in local communities, but still hamstrung in their ability to act since they’ll still be creatures of the State.

…too plentiful–local governments will need to collaborate more, and should probably look to merge to avoid duplication and ensure the best use of taxpayer money.

What questions should we have asked you?

  • How do you stay challenged in your work?
  • Where do you get your ideas?
  • What’s the value of being professionally involved to your leadership and management?

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Profiles


Close window