Cary, NC — His first day working for the Town was in 1998 as an entry-level engineer. Now, 22 years later, he keeps his finger on the pulse of all new development in Cary, serving as Deputy Town Manager and Chief Development Officer.
Continuing our series on Cary’s Town Managers.
Russ Overton originally lived in Cary as a civil engineering student at NC State. He can remember in those days that Waverly Place had just opened and it was the place to be to watch a movie.
“I remember loving the look and feel of Cary, you could just tell something was different about it,” said Overton.
He went on to work two years as a consultant in Virginia Beach before coming across an ad in the newspaper that Cary was looking for engineers. Admittedly, his choice to apply 22 years ago was because he and his high school sweetheart, and now wife, Kristy wanted to move to the Triangle area. Plus, Cary was a familiar place that offered a good salary.
Looking back with the lens of hindsight, Overton says his reasons for continuing to choose Cary evolved over the years.
A Dedicated and Challenge-Driven Engineer
Overton spent 10 years in Cary’s engineering department, starting with sidewalk and street projects before moving up to senior engineer and engineer manager. Compared to his days of consulting, he noticed his passion for engineering grow as he was much more able to live and be around the projects he had a hand in bringing to life.
“I took a lot of great pride in knowing that in Cary, you can help build the community around you,” said Overton.
Never being one to stay comfortable, Overton always looked for something new, challenging and fun on the horizon in development. A big project he landed because of this drive was managing the construction of the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Becoming a Director and, in Turn, a Leader
Overton did not see the next step in his career coming. In fact, to this day, he says it didn’t entirely make sense on paper.
Following 10 years of engineering work, he was asked to lead the Inspections and Permits Department. This was at the same time as the 2008 Great Recession where the climate of development went from full-speed ahead to a near-halt.
That time allowed Overton to reset and refocus the department in a way that became geared toward two main things — customer service and data-driven processes. It was all about thinking differently, asking questions and establishing the best way of doing things.
He had spent 5 years in that role when former Town Manager Ben Shiver asked him to be Assistant Town Manager in 2013. Overton took on the new challenge and began overseeing the areas of development services, planning, inspections and permits.
“As the Assistant Manager, I was learning, growing and helping where I could. Ben stayed another three years after that and then Sean came,” said Overton.
A Team Dynamic with Stegall and Ault
Sean Stegall, Cary’s current Town Manager, was hired in 2016 and came in with a new roadmap and workplace culture to carry the organization forward. Stegall asked Overton to step into the role of Deputy Town Manager and a colleague from Stegall’s time as Manager in Elgin, Illinois, Dan Ault, was brought in as Assistant Manager.
Now, the three work in separate capacities to lead the organization in their own areas of strength.
For Overton, that area is primarily development projects like Fenton and the future of the Cary Towne Center site; for Stegall, it’s matters related to the Town Council including budget and policy; and for Ault, it’s the vision for Cary’s future and technological solutions like the 3-1-1 Center, which launched this year.
While they each have their wheelhouses, Overton says there is always some interchangeability as the needs and projects of each day are always changing. The big thing that makes them united as a team is an important, shared value.
“We all like that human endeavor of making the people around us better, all three of us. So I think we’re all definitely synced up that way, but we still have that space around us to work in different areas as well,” said Overton.
Being a Manager in a Pandemic
Overton’s ongoing tally of days worked at home was at 116 as of July 9, 2020. Until recently, Overton had the added challenge of conducting video conferences in the same house that his three daughters, Mackenzie, Elise and Kate were taking online classes.
“I’d like to say I’m ready to go back and get back to normal, but I’m realistic enough to know I don’t know when that will be and the next normal will be different,” said Overton.
Once Town facilities shut down, Overton and Ault became part of the Operational Framework Team tasked with managing all staff who were suddenly working remotely. Thankfully, Overton says the processes of online plans, permits, rezoning cases and inspections were already established and the Town did not furlough a single employee, including part-time staff.
“We were fortunate to have really good financial planning and we had a really good emergency fund. We’ve had to dip into those, I think to the tune of $22 million so far, so it’s not been without pain and pinch points,” said Overton.
22 Years In & Ready for More
Overton jokes that he’s too far away to think about retirement, but not exactly a newbie to the Town either. He doesn’t exactly love the reality of becoming one of the “old-timers” of the organization, but that hasn’t dampened the excitement he has for his job at all.
“What Cary has afforded me and one of the things I’m most passionate about is the opportunity to get outside of your box and your comfort zone,” said Overton.
After having opportunities presented to him outside of engineering, Overton became an advocate for not letting a position, a title or what a person went to school for define them and their career path.
“I think as long as Cary’s doing that and as long as there are people to mentor and help make better and to be able to create a local government that doesn’t exist, I find it very rewarding and inspirational to think of what we can accomplish here and can be a model for others to see,” said Overton. “It’s a model that I’ve benefitted from and I think the Town benefits from.”
Story and photos by Ashley Kairis.
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