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Harris talks decision to step down as administrator in October

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SUSSEX - Having been back in the county for nearly a year, County Administrator Thomas Harris surprised some at a meeting late last month when he announced that he would be resigning from the top job in the county, effective October 1.

In his two-page letter, Harris said that it was "with a very heavy heart" that he submitted his resignation to the county.

"In so doing, I want each of you to know that serving as Sussex County Administrator has been a position that I have loved, in a community that I love, and without a doubt, I consider it one of the greatest honors and privileges that I have had over my thirty plus years in public service," his letter read.

He lamented that he would not be around to see the county develop in the future in his remarks, as well.

"I regret that I will not see the growth and prosperity of the County that I have dedicated myself to for the past three years, I regret that I will no longer be able to work with the many fine employees and elected officials of the County, I regret that I will not have the honor of announcing those businesses and the corresponding jobs that I have worked so hard to recruit over the past several months, I regret that I will no longer be able to assist the many residents in need in the County, I regret that I will not be there as our Tigers successfully compete in the classroom and on the athletic fields, and most importantly I regret that I will no longer be able to help provide stability, focus, vision, collaboration and selfless leadership to a community that is in such desperate need of each," Harris read.

In an interview, Harris was thankful for those who had supported him and his family over the three years he has served as the county's administrator.

"I am very thankful to the community of Sussex," he said. "I am just as committed to the county today as I was the day I came to the county."

"However, there seems to be a changing of the direction, and I do not feel like I have been able to do the kind of things that I would like to do and make the kind of contributions I would like to make."

Harris, at the time of his resignation announcement, was just ten months into his time back with the county following his termination in a December 2012 meeting that eventually led to Harris filing suit against the county, a case that was recently settled out of court for several thousand dollars.

He explained that "one of the most devastating things he sees as a county administrator" plaguing the county is the staggering poverty rate in the community.

"The need to bring jobs into the community and to focus on real changes that need to happen is being hampered by continued in-fighting without any real vision for the community," Harris said.

Over the past several years, he and his staff have been trying to determine the "vision" of the Sussex community as a whole thanks to Harris' "Vision 20/20" series of meetings where county leaders, residents, and others come together to discuss the needs of the county and the direction Sussex is headed.

Harris will remain on the job through October 1, which, he said, will allow the county ample time to find and interview candidates and get them in place. He added that it is also to prevent a repeat of what happened in early 2013 during the period when Harris was terminated.

At that time, with no county administrator present, the duties of the county's day-to-day operations fell on the chairman of the board, as required by the Code of Virginia.

"We need to be able to advertise, interview, and select the right person for the job," he said. "It needs to be done without having to resort to some of the chaos that occurred when I left previously."

He said that the same principles that guided him when he started are the same ones that he holds true today.

"We need honesty, integrity, transparency, and the courage to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences."

When asked if he felt those ideals existed in the county currently, he said that "it is going to take selfless leadership and a focus on the people."

"I believe we have a ways to go," he continued."

Staying on the job through the summer has caused some to question if Harris can or will remain focused on his position given the approaching time for his departure.

"Those questions come from individuals who have no comprehension of professional ethics or no understanding of professional commitment," he said.

"This is a 31-year career I have had. Why in the world would I want to bring that time into question," Harris closed.

Harris was clear that he did not have another job lined up, but he did say that he is looking at options for the future and taking his family's word as he makes these decisions.

He will remain in his role until October 1.