GARNER — He had chances to go back to the City of Raleigh, but a good work environment and a little hometown loyalty kept Tony Chalk with the Town of Garner.
That loyalty has paid off with Chalk officially named the town engineer, replacing retired Frank Powell as Garner looks forward to an expected construction and infrastructure boom.
Chalk became interim town engineer when Powell retired at the start of the year while the town continued a vetting process that had begun in the fall. He had held the No. 2 position, assistant town engineer, since 1999.
The town initially hired him from Raleigh in 1989; in fact Powell hired him for a civil engineer position that managed a water and sewer inspection team. Until January, he’s never known another boss, which provided a stability that helped keep him in town.
“It’s rare that you work for somebody that long,” Chalk said. “I think that speaks a lot for Frank as a person. He always treated me very fairly both in a work environment, and we were friends outside of work.”
Like Powell, Chalk also likes the something-different-every-day nature of a small town’s engineering department. Though he loves hydrology and fluid dynamics – Raleigh now handles Garner’s water supply – he likes wearing several hats. When human resources asked him to describe his old now-vacant assistant job, he said that aspect, as opposed to pigeon-holing someone into a specialty, should be a selling point.
“Working in a small town you have to be jack of all trades, master of none,” Chalk said. “You never know what you are going to get any day you come in. Sometimes it’s good excitement, sometimes it’s bad excitement but it’s kind of unique.”
With $35.7 million in bond projects and millions of dollars in development expected in the next 4-5 years, there will be plenty to keep him busy. But his boss thinks he can handle it.
“We’re excited to get him started,” town manager Hardin Watkins said.
Watkins touted Chalk’s talents, community familiarity and involvement, attitude and relationships with co-workers. Watkins put him through a months-long, multifaceted process he borrowed from UNC Executive Vice Provost Dr. Ron Strauss, one that doubled as vetting and professional development.
“Tony was a very enthusiastic and willing participant. There were certain parts that if you didn’t come with the right attitude would seem tedious and mundane,” Watkins said.
Never far from home
The furthest the 1979 Garner High graduate, who grew up in the Cloverdale neighborhood, ever got from Garner was N.C. State University. Don’t call him a Wolfpack fan though; the long-time UNC football season ticket holder has held fast to the Tar Heel sports loyalties he formed as a child.
He began working for the City of Raleigh in 1987 but he had already moved back to the Garner area. He married his wife Amy in 1988. They moved into town near Lake Benson and White Deer parks in 1992, where he still lives. His father, meanwhile, still lives in his childhood home in Cloverdale.
He said he had chances earlier in his career to shift back to Raleigh, but ultimately decided against it, citing appreciation for the people working for the town as well as the lack of a commute.
“There’s something to be said for working two miles from your home,” Chalk said. “Plus you work close to a lot of people you know. That can be a plus and a curse, but the curse is nowhere near as big as the plus side.”
Last Wednesday, Chalk – a big Americana music fan – was preparing for the Cayamo Cruise music festival in the Caribbean. He said as busy as the transition has been, the trip will provide an opportunity to step back and appreciate his promotion.
“When I get away this evening I will try to enjoy the moment,” Chalk said.
When he returns he will get back to selecting his replacement, which could be a largely significant task; with just a few years until his 30-year mark, Chalk doesn’t intend to hold this job forever. That assistant could become the town engineer in less time than it took Chalk.
“I’d say it’s a four-to-five-year window,” said Chalk, who is eligible to retire in 2017. “My wife said I need to keep working because we need to pay college off. If I say anything less than that I get in trouble.”
His daughter Emily is studying economics at UNC and his oldest, Ellen, will graduate from Appalachian State in the spring and wants to be a speech therapist. Once their graduate school is taken care of though, Chalk could step aside, a fact he said he was up-front about with Watkins.
That still leaves plenty of time to leave his mark. The man who remembers a town about the third the size of today’s Garner will watch over projects ranging from schools to a town hall, from a rec center to shopping centers. He called Garner a “great place to live and raise a family.”
He also said the town is going to undergo major changes, especially with the high school Wake County will be building in the near future.
“It’s hard for my daughters’ friends to understand; how the Town of Cary used to be our rival in school, Garner being an entity united around a central high school,” Chalk said. “As the town grows and builds another high school, that’s going to be one of the bigger changes we’ve seen in this town in a long time.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland