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Cornelius trims budget, cuts planning chief

Richard Meyer, who spent nearly 12 years at the city, is laid off in cost-saving bid

The budget season is well underway in most municipalities and Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake has already made one layoff in his bid to trim his city payroll, laying off longtime planner Richard Meyer.

Meyer, who spent nearly 12 years with the city, spent his last day at the city April 27, when his position as director of operations and planning was eliminated in a restructuring led by Drake.

But the layoff wasn't entirely Drake's idea. The city manager said Meyer offered up the idea as a means to prevent layoffs in the two departments he oversaw, which are now named community development and public works.

'I laid myself off,' Meyer told the News-Times Monday afternoon.

Meyer said Drake initially approached him proposing a reduction in staff in his departments. He tried to convince Drake the cuts weren't necessary and when that failed, he offered his own job up as a way to make ends meet for the city.

'I've served Cornelius for over a decade now and feel pretty good about it,' Meyer said. 'We've got a great department staff and I think it's in the best interest of the community to keep that staff in place and move on.'

Meyer's departure will save the city roughly $150,000 in pay and benefits. Drake said he'll also eliminate a part-time position in July, which will save the city another TK,000.

'With both employees this isn't about performance, this is about dollars,' Drake said. 'Development has been down in recent years and I don't think we could justify the dollars.'

Meyer, who has been a strong advocate for efforts to increase the regional Urban Growth Boundary near Cornelius, said he's happy with the accomplishments that have been made during his tenure at the city, spanning four city managers.

'I think Cornelius has a lot of opportunity in front of it,' Meyer said.

Noting improvements in the commercial corridor, Meyer said the city made a main street out of 'a wide spot in the highway,' and has worked to create a sense of community that is willing to think big, he said.

Meyer said city efforts to revamp its downtown core, starting with the realignment of 19th and 20th Avenues, the renovation of Adair Street and the development of what would become a Walgreen's store, has led to a new image for Cornelius. That work will continue this summer with a project to mirror that renovation on Baseline.

'All that really helps because you put on a nice set of clothes - maybe even a suit and tie now and then - and the people look up and the city looks great and more's expected of the community and people accomplish more,' Meyer said.

Meyer has been the target of city hall critics in the past, most notably former Mayor Neal Knight, who successfully led a push to fire former Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle after Waffle refused to fire Meyer.

Knight and two of his allies on city council were recalled by voters in an election last fall.

'The major barrier to developing into a major sustainable community is low expectations and I think that has changed over the years,' Meyer said. 'I think over the years its been harder and harder for cynics and just flat-out anti-government people to impose their power because too many good things are going on. There's only a handful of people left I think who don't think that Cornelius can make it.'



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