By MINDY LUCAS
Before Chris Inglese came to work for Beaufort County in 2017, he worked as an attorney in private practice in Charleston. He also served as a planner for the City of Charleston for nine years.
While working as a planner, he discovered a real passion for the nuts and bolts of local government – not something you’ll hear most people say, but for Inglese (pronounced In-GLAY-see) it was a real “aha” moment, he said.
“I came to the conclusion that local government was where it’s at, because it’s a microcosm of our constitutional democracy. This is where the rubber meets the road, where the elected officials interact with their constituents in the grocery store, in the coffee shop, at church or walking down the street,” he said. “To me is just such a meaningful place to be.”
The Island News sat down with Inglese, who was recently promoted to Deputy County Administrator, to learn more about this role.
The Island News: Can you give readers an idea of what the Deputy County Administrator does and perhaps take us through a typical day, if there is such a thing as a typical day?
Inglese: There’s no “typical” day, except that Mondays are typically long and intense with either committee or council meetings.
The remainder of the week involves meetings, phones calls, and instructing staff in continuous and ongoing communications. Occasionally I get to prepare documents, letters or responses to inquiries as my schedule allows.
The range of issues is extraordinary even within the same day – everything from a personnel issue in the morning, to a meeting with planners reviewing the next big project, or discussing economic development proposals, to responding to a dead possum in a magistrate judge’s office and other facilities issues. The range of issues is what keeps every day dynamic and exciting.
TIN: Can you explain how the county’s administrator and deputy administrator work with members of Beaufort County Council?
Inglese: The deputy administrator’s primary role is focused on operations. Therefore, I work closely with the assistant administrators and department heads to respond to their needs.
The administrator’s primary role is to implement the goals and policies adopted by county council and to engage in public relations. The deputy and the administrator have to work closely together to ensure the “operations” part of the equation has the capacity and resources in place to achieve the goals and policies adopted by county council. We have to balance the wishes of our elected officials and their constituents with the realities of the resources we have in place and available to us.
TIN: What are the biggest challenges facing Beaufort County right now, as it relates to your role and the county administrator’s office?
Inglese: The biggest challenges is our failing facilities. We are in the process of doing a facilities master plan to help plan for the facilities needed for our operations. That process will likely take another year and there will be many years following to plan for and pay for the implementation of the facilities master plan.
The next biggest challenge is making sure our employees have the resources they need to be successful. I see my role as an advocate for staff, but at the same time, as we improve compensation, benefits and training resources, the expectations on performance will increase.
I am not shy to challenge staff in an effort to get their best performance, but I can only do that if they know I have their back and will advocate in their best interest. To that end, we have successfully implemented a sick leave policy and added three holidays to employee benefits. We’ll be bringing council a paid parental leave policy in January.
We have begun planning a program called “Employee Empowerment through Information Technology” to ensure employees are proficient in the technologies they are working with every day. And next year, I hope to implement a much-talked-about wellness program to promote healthy habits for a healthy lifestyle.
And finally, I would like to approach council during the budget process to invest in customer service training to elevate the quality level of service we provide both to our citizens and each other within the county organization.
TIN: What are your goals as deputy administrator and how has your background or your education and experience prepared you for these?
Inglese: A couple of my top goals include promoting and creating a healthy, supportive and cooperative working environment. It is my desire that we have a culture of public service that recognizes the gratification of selfless service to the community.
Ancient philosophers, sages and spiritual leaders as well as contemporary philosophers such as David Brooks in his 2018 publication “Second Mountain” recognize that the secret to living a joyful life is when we get out of our own ego and are willing to give selflessly to others.
It is a proven method for true happiness and has been known for millennia. What I love about public service, is that I have a chosen a vocation where I can gain the gratification of serving this community, day in and day out.
Instilling a sense of appreciation and love for public service into the culture of Beaufort County government would be the greatest goal I can work toward while in this position.
Specific goals to achieve this include implementing a wellness program, providing customer service training, and continue to identify and pursue improving upon operational procedures such as work order systems, agenda review and internal communications.
TIN: The county’s administrator, Ashley Jacobs, recently told a member of the media, “It’s a new day in Beaufort County,” regarding transparency and paying for requested documents using the Freedom of Information Act, documents which can get expensive. With that and county council’s formation of the Communications and Transparency Committee earlier this year, is it a new day in Beaufort County? What goals or other specific steps has your department taken toward striving for greater transparency or building trust with the public?
Inglese: It absolutely is a new day in Beaufort and we are lucky to have Ms. Jacobs leadership and vision.
I view the media as a partner in this thing we call “government.” I am happy to share with the media the things I can because there is so much good news and hard work happening it would be good to communicate all of those many good things to the community more often.
TIN: A bonus question. When you are not handling the day-to-day business of county administration, what do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
Inglese: Spending time with family, especially my amazing wife. Anything outdoors in nature, hiking in the woods, going to the beach or mountains, kayaking. I enjoy practicing yoga and traveling whenever I can, especially to Italy.