The Leigh Etheridge era in Ahoskie is officially underway.
The Roanoke-Chowan News Herald reported Etheridge, a native of Roanoke Rapids who has spent her entire professional career working within the public sector, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon as Ahoskie’s town manager.
“We are happy to welcome Ms. Etheridge to our town,” said Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White during a brief ceremony held in the town council meeting room at the Ahoskie Fire Department. “During the interview process, we were very, very impressed with her abilities and her experience. I feel we made the appropriate and best decision for Ahoskie to move forward. We’ve had some dark days here, but I’m very excited over where Leigh will take this town. We have faith that she will be successful.”
Mayor White also noted that Etheridge made history upon taking the job as she became Ahoskie first woman town manager. Ahoskie was incorporated 130 years ago.
Upon White asking for remarks from other members of the town council, Charles Reynolds said, “I’ve already told her what I need.”
“Potholes….fix the potholes [in the town streets],” Etheridge responded, acknowledging the councilman.
“I look forward to working with each of you,” Etheridge said, standing in front of a room full of town of Ahoskie employees gathered for her swearing-in ceremony. “I want to visit you where you work and learn more about what you do for the town.”
Etheridge’s professional career began with a seven-year stint as the business director for the Halifax County Department of Social Services. From 2012-2015 she was the assistant finance director for Northampton County local government before working seven years as the finance director for the city of Roanoke Rapids. Etheridge left that job for a similar position with the city of Poquoson, Virginia.
“I only spent one year in Poquoson because I had a desire to move back close to home [Roanoke Rapids] because my parents are aging,” Etheridge noted. “I’m thrilled to be back close to home. I have great memories of Ahoskie as my cousin and her husband, Susan and Mike Doughtie, lived here for many years. Just knowing I’m only 50 minutes away [from Roanoke Rapids] versus two hours or more is very comforting to me.”
As to becoming Ahoskie’s first female town manager, Etheridge responded by saying, “I’ve never seen myself as a trailblazer. Basically everything I’ve done over the course of my professional career has been for career advancement and to try and marry that with being as close to my family as possible. When you have specialized occupations such as mine, advancement is very difficult because there are not that many positions that will open up for you to move to that next level. I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m the first female town manager for Ahoskie, but that doesn’t define me as a professional. I’m here to lead and guide and to help this town advance.”
Etheridge holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting from UNC-Wilmington and a masters in business administration — a magna cum laude graduate — from the University of Phoenix. She has also completed numerous courses offered through the UNC School of Government. Another of those courses is on tap next week in Winston-Salem where she will attend a workshop for new managers.
“I've taken courses in budgeting, auditing in local government — anything dealing with my financial role. Now I can take what I’ve learned into a managerial role,” she said.
“People may not realize that when you are a business officer, while you’re not the director of the entire organization, you do gain a lot of experience far beyond finance,” Etheridge continued. “A business officer serves as a liaison to help manage human resources, as I did while at Halifax County DSS. There, I also managed IT (Information Technology); I managed the central file room; I managed janitorial services. I’ve handled administrative duties.”
Like many small towns across the nation, Ahoskie has to rely heavily on individual and business taxpayers to foot the bill for the services it provides. Thus, Etheridge is keenly aware of the importance of using grant dollars to ease some of that burden.
“Anytime we can leverage town dollars with state and federal dollars, that’s a benefit for the town,” she stated. “I have the background in that area.”
Etheridge addressed what she saw as the town’s immediate needs.
“I know we have a few vacancies that need to be filled,” she said. “Overall, I’m just ready to jump in and go to work. I want to meet with our staff to see what their needs are, and work with Mayor White and the town council to see what needs to be done that hasn’t been done since April of last year, to include taking care of any unfinished projects.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” Etheridge added. “I’m looking forward to meeting our citizens. I have an open door policy, and that includes our town employees.”
She credits her parents, Cecil and Beverly Etheridge, for their love and support as her career advanced.
“They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders,” Etheridge stressed. “They even encouraged me when I was thinking about taking a job two hours away.”
Etheridge fills the Ahoskie town manager’s position that has been vacant for the past nine months. Kerry McDuffie, Ahoskie’s previous manager, was fired, without cause, on April 22, 2022.
Etheridge was hired at a starting salary of $90,000 annually with a potential 5 percent raise after a six-month probationary period plus a job performance evaluation by the council. She is required to reside in Hertford County.