Danette Dye - Gastonia's new 'dream catcher'

It’s easy to see why homeownership is called the American Dream. When you can afford a home, your household has achieved a level of accumulated wealth. When more households have economic stability, the positive effects tend to ripple across each neighborhood and the City as a whole.

Danette Dye 2022 crop headshotBut Danette Dye says the trend, both in Gastonia and nationwide, is economic INstability. The City’s new director of Housing and Community Engagement says, when wages don’t keep pace with housing costs, fewer people can buy homes. The American Dream slips away.

“You’re going to see a greater number of people who are not able to afford housing,” Dye says. “We see that every day in people not being able to purchase a home.”

The reasons fewer people are able to afford a home are varied and complex, most going back several decades. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain issues, lack of housing inventory, and increased inflation only have made a bad situation worse.

Dye says housing demand far exceeds supply, especially for people on working-class wages. “With the sharp increases in housing prices, it decreases the number of families who are able to obtain affordable housing," she says. "As prices continue to increase, many households may have to make difficult choices between housing and other needs."

(2006) Danette Homebuyers Ed ClassDye teaches a class for new homebuyers in 2006.There also are homeowners who can’t afford to make necessary repairs. Dye says providing stability is important, so those residents can maintain their homes and continue living there safely.

Of course, the City does not set private wages, control global supply chains or regulate inflation – all big factors in housing affordability. It does, however, administer some federally funded grant programs to help educate and empower would-be homebuyers.

“We have programs that provide down-payment assistance,” Dye says. “And for individuals or families looking to purchase a home, we are a HUD-approved counseling agency offering pre-purchase homeownership counseling.” The City also offers a housing rehabilitation program to help low- and moderate-income residents repair their homes.

Renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can get help from the City through a different federal grant program. And the City partners with many public and private entities on the multi-faceted challenges of housing insecurity.

Decades of experience

Dye is a native Gastonian, with her family tree rooted in this area for at least four generations. She started her career with the City more than 30 years ago, first working full time as a Police Records Clerk while attending college. Later, she transferred to the City's Community Development Department, where she started as an Administrative Assistant.

(2017) Danette Open House Fourth AvWith Community Services/Housing team in 2017 at a house built by the City.
Her next position was that of Case Management Specialist, assisting low-income clients with housing needs. She also worked as a Compliance Officer and a HUD Administrator. She specialized in housing programs that get most of their funding from two types of federal grant money. HOME is the largest federal block grant program to state and local governments designed to create affordable housing. The Community Development Block Grant program supports community revitalization, including housing and employment opportunities.

Dye says her varying roles working with the department gave her the opportunity for increased growth and development, both personally and professionally, “because you see things from different perspectives and pick up so many different things in different capacities,” she explains.

Although the federal grant programs are complicated, Dye says she learned the ins and outs through a combination of hands-on experience and specialized training. And she spent decades building a rapport with community partners and Gastonia residents. “I feel those are long-lasting relationships that have allowed me to relate to and better understand the needs of the community,” she says.

City’s ‘forefront issues’ of housing and homelessnessDanette Dye   Get to Know Her

It’s clear that Dye has a heart for people and a mind for the complex programs and partnerships designed to foster housing opportunities and thriving neighborhoods. She will tap into that compassion and knowledge while leading the City’s new Housing and Community Engagement Department and its staff of 11 people.

The department includes the new Alliance for Community Enrichment, along with Housing and Neighborhoods (Community Development), Keep Gastonia Beautiful and Gastonia Sister Cities. The various programs emphasize engagement, education, beautification, culture and coordination of services. “Gastonia has always had a strong sense of community,” Dye says. “We hope to build upon those existing relationships within the community to forge even stronger alliances."

As of 2022, the department is no longer called Community Development or Community Services. Transit and the airport have been moved under Public Works. The department’s new name, Housing and Commmunity Engagement, reflects the City’s increased emphasis on the growing challenges of housing and homelessness, which Dye calls “forefront issues.”

“The two are tied together,” she explains. “You can’t address homelessness without addressing the affordable housing component.”

Dye hopes to begin meetings with residents in the coming months to create a better assessment of what the needs are and what types of partnerships are necessary to address those two related concerns. But she emphasizes that the City alone cannot fix either problem. “It’s not a governmental issue,” she says. “It’s a community issue.”

According to Dye, the City and her department will be an “integral part” of coming up with viable solutions. But it will take collaborative action from many people in both the public and private sectors to help bring the American Dream into the grasp of more residents’ hands.

Dream catcher

Dye says one of her biggest challenges will be managing expectations that the City has a quick fix to create affordable housing and strong neighborhoods. She doesn’t have a magic wand. But she may have the equivalent of what Native Americans call a dream catcher – a web-like hoop hung over the bed to catch and keep good dreams. Working with a web of other people and organizations, her department may help a few more Gastonia residents catch the American Dream. At least she’ll give it her best shot.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Dye says of her new role. “I look forward to it because it is new, it’s challenging and it’s one that I think is needed for the City. I feel very fortunate.”

 

History of the Gastonia Christmas Parade

Floats. Marching bands. Baton twirlers and color guards. Fire trucks. Antique cars. Shiny new convertibles. And of course, a visit from jolly old St. Nick. Gastonia’s annual Christmas Parade officially kicks off the holiday season with family fun and a flood of nostalgia. 1959 Ashley High School

Gastonia’s Christmas Parade started at least 65 years ago, maybe even earlier. It was so long ago that early records are hard to find. 

The Gaston County Jaycees began sponsoring the parade in the 1950s. The national organization had developed a guide to help local chapters across the country host parades. Andrea Grenier of the Gaston County Jaycees says that’s because the organization has “the manpower and the love of giving back to our communities.”

Photos from the 1950s and ‘60s show the parade was originally held on Main Avenue. At some point, it was moved to Franklin Boulevard. Seven years ago, the parade went back to Main Avenue. Gaston County Jaycees President Chris Ashley says the Franklin route was too long and too impersonal, with the event “losing that parade feeling.”
Christmas Parade queens 2015 Miss Gastonia OrganizationChristmas Parade 2015
Photo from Miss Gastonia Organization

He says he will always remember the 2014 return to Main Avenue. “We all stood in amazement at the crowd along the route,” Ashley says. “I believe it brought new life to the parade, as those walking and performing could feel it in the air.”

Holidays in the City program 1Program from 1997The parade has rarely been canceled, other than a few years back because of icy rain and last year because of COVID-19. Grenier says she has happy memories of attending the Gastonia Christmas Parade as a child. And Ashley says the parade seems to have a special appeal for kids. “I believe the Christmas Parade is a great tradition for the residents of Gastonia,” he says. “It is especially important for the children as they get to see Santa visit Gastonia before Christmas.”

Starting in the 1990s, a festive event called Holidays in the City was added on the day after the parade. The Monday night event included hay rides, handbell choirs, choral and dance performances, and community caroling. It was sponsored by the Uptown Business & Professional Association and was a fundraiser for various local charities.

In 2007, Keep Gastonia Beautiful began hosting a tree-lighting ceremony on the Monday before Thanksgiving. It featured local musicians, free hot chocolate, and treat bags for the kids. The separate events continued until 2016, when the City Council decided to combine the marketplace, parade and tree lighting into one event. It’s now called Christmas in the City.

“It ended up being in everyone’s best interest to combine the events,” says Juliann Lehman of Keep Gastonia Beautiful. “Having all of the activities on the same day creates a bigger audience.”
Tree Lighting 2015 IMG 9814Tree lighting ceremony in 2015
Gastonia held parades in the past to celebrate the end of major wars and to honor its textile industry. But the Christmas Parade is the only one to keep marching on through six decades. Ashley, of the Jaycees, credits the partnership and hard work of all involved.

“The parade could not go on without the support that the City gives us,” Ashley says. “We thank all departments that have a hand in getting things done. From the setup, police security, the lights, trash pickup, street cleaning. It takes the entire Jaycees and the City for the parade to happen.”

After the 2020 COVID cancellation, many Gastonia residents say they are thrilled that the parade and tree lighting will be held again this year. “We’ve had a lot of interest,” says City Event Planner Christine Ingle. “People really missed the parade last year.”

Continuing the tradition, this year’s parade and marketplace will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5 in downtown Gastonia. The tree lighting at the Rotary Pavilion will be held immediately after the parade. The Christmas Marketplace and all other activities will end at 7 p.m.

Santa float   Walker ReidSanta in the 2017 Parade
Photo by Walker Reid

'I'm impressed with Gastonia:' Interns describe their 13-week immersion in City government

Jordan “Joe” Young is from Charlotte and is beginning her junior year at North Carolina A&T State University where she is majoring in political science. Malik Zeigler is also a Charlotte native. He has a bachelor’s degree from NC State where he majored in political science. In May, he completed his master’s degree in public administration at Appalachian State. While the interview with them was fascinating, their answers have been edited for brevity.

What got you interested in municipal government?
Interns with Mayor ReidLeft to right: Joe Young, Mayor Walker Reid, Malik Zeigler
Young
: I always wanted to work in government, but A&T focuses more on federal and state. And federal government is glamorized in the media. But now that I have been in it and have seen what local government is all about, I’m really interested in it.

Zeigler: Early on, I didn’t have any interest in local government. I kept thinking I wanted to work in D.C. and on Capitol Hill. But I fell out of love with the political side of things. When I found public administration, I realized this is something I can do where I still work in government, make an impact, make a change. App State is really big on local government. And there are a lot of App State alums who work for the City of Gastonia and across North Carolina.

When you’re young, you want to change the world. You don’t want to just change Gastonia or you don’t want to just change Charlotte. You want to change the world. But now I understand that changing a city can be just as important. Changing the lives of people that you’re impacting day to day can be just as important as changing the entire country.

Have you thought about running for elective office?

Zeigler: In undergrad I thought about it. But that went away when I fell out of love with politics. I helped one of my brother’s friends run for city council in Charlotte one summer. I went door to door, and after that I was like, “I don’t know if this is for me.”

Young: I definitely thought about it, but it’s not for me. I can’t do the politics of it. Saying things I don’t believe to cater to a particular audience or watering down something I believe in, I just can’t do that.

What have you done in your internships with the City of Gastonia?
Malik Z pull quote 1
Young
: We’ve spent time with each department. What we’ve done has been dependent on the department head and the type of experience they want to give us. Each one has been different. Some have been full immersion, going to meetings, very interactive and seeing everything that they do. We went out on runs with different employees. Solid Waste showed us a couple of their routes.

Zeigler: Realizing how the City runs has been a big thing for me. Coming out of my master’s program I had the book information, but I didn’t get the practical experience. Putting that book knowledge to work has been very important for me. Just seeing how the City works.

What surprised you?

Young: When I initially thought of local government, I thought of town hall meetings where there was a lot of discussion but no action. I thought all of the action was state and federal. I didn’t realize that local government is the main contributor to what goes on in people’s day-to-day lives. We’re who people call when they have questions or concerns. Local government is the one who solves those issues, mainly. That was surprising.

And when we were with Finance, Crystal (Certain, Finance director) said the budget has to be balanced on the penny. $300 million has to be balanced to the penny! For her to pull out that binder and be like, “This is what a budget looks like” – it’s as big as two of my textbooks. It’s intimidating! And the City has to make sure that it’s balanced by a certain date.
Joe Y pull quote1
Zeigler
: I was surprised by Public Works and Utilities. I never knew how that worked. I knew that I turned the faucet and water came on. I knew that when I cut the lights on, the electricity came on. But I hadn’t spent time thinking about wastewater or stormwater. Little things from Public Works and Utilities were the most surprising to me and great to learn.

I also had wondered why local governments don’t do more to keep rising property values from pricing people out of their homes. Working with Kristy (Crisp, Economic Development director) and Jason (Thompson, Planning director), I now realize gentrification is more complex. It’s not necessarily an answer that local governments can give. Government doesn’t control privately owned property. Often times, property values go up and lower-income residents or renters get priced out. But that’s all in the private sector. If someone can’t afford their property tax after the value goes up, there’s not much local government can do on its own to fix that. There’s no cut-and-dried answer for complex issues like affordable housing, and that’s probably the biggest assumption that changed for me.

Did anything about our Council/Manager form of government surprise you? (In Gastonia’s form of government, the city manager is like a municipal CEO, the city council has legislative authority, and the mayor is an important public figure but has no formal authority outside of the city council.)  

Zeigler: It did open my eyes. You look at New York City where the mayor has a lot more power. But in most of North Carolina, the city manager has more power to deal with day-to-day issues, unless it’s an issue that needs approval from the City Council. The city manager is the one making sure that all of the cogs are in place and running smoothly, making sure that what Council wants is getting implemented.

Joe Young at airportJoe Young at the Gastonia Municipal AirportA councilman can ask that the grass be cut at the cemeteries, but he’s not the one pushing the lawn mower. It’s Parks and Rec. Having that understanding can help any citizen. And maybe if they understand it, they’ll give more grace to both elected officials and local government employees.

Young: A lot of people don’t know what a city manager is or what he does. I kind of did, but I really know how it works now. Local government is a lot more complex than most people realize.

How might this internship affect your career path?

Zeigler: Local government is definitely something I want to do as a career. And I’ve gotten interested in the work of multiple departments while I’ve been here. It’s broadened my scope of what I would like to do in local government. I came here with one or two things that I thought I might want to do, mainly Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Now it’s grown to about four or five areas. I never thought I’d want to be a planner, but Jason won me over. And Vincent (Wong’s) department (Community Services), doing those kinds of things with community development interests me.

My schooling is done and I’ll be looking for full-time work after I complete the internship. I’ve already started applying for jobs, including an HR position with the City of Gastonia. Hopefully I’ll end up working here!

Malik Z pull quote 2Young: I want to work in local government. I really enjoyed being with Cherie (Jzar, DEI coordinator). I see her as an older version of myself. She still has that passion. She is a leader and that’s really inspiring. I also enjoyed Community Services and Economic Development – and how they make the city better for the people.

Another thing that opened my eyes is how important retirement is. Once you get your “big girl job,” you have to start thinking about retirement. Some people have been here for like 25 years and are proud to work here. I feel more knowledgeable. I’ve really enjoyed this internship and I’m very thankful for this opportunity.

Both Young and Zeigler brought up the subject of stereotypes that have hurt Gastonia’s reputation in the past.

Young: When we were with Kristy, we had a very meaningful conversation about the self-worth of Gastonia. People outside of Gastonia actually see us in a better light than residents of Gastonia see themselves. I think it’s important that we have local government officials who think highly of the people that they are serving. Gastonia has been the underdog, and everybody roots for the underdog. I’m rooting for us! And I know the people who are working here are rooting for us.

 Zeigler: Being from Charlotte, it was just implied that people don’t go to Gastonia. But I’ve gotten a different perspective of how the City of Gastonia is now and what it’s becoming, and that has really impressed me.

Joe Y pull quote 2What are your biggest takeaways as a result of your internship?

Zeigler: I’m going to take a lot from this internship, for sure. I’ve loved the City of Gastonia! It’s a great city to intern with right now. It’s shown me what growth can look like. For a city that started as a rural mill town, it’s starting to diversify and grow and all of this economic development is coming this way. It’s cool interning with a City where you can see the growth happening before your eyes. I love to see it! It’s like an emerging city.  It’s been a great opportunity.

Young: I’m impressed with the City of Gastonia. I feel like in 10-years’ time, maybe even sooner than that, Gastonia is going to be booming. Quality of life is a priority here, and City government is a very citizen-centered group of people. I’m definitely impressed and hope I can be part of the team one day!

Footnote: The City began a formal, paid internship program in FY18 as a way to give qualified college students real-world experience in a government environment. Interns get a broad picture by spending at least one day with each City department, seeing what its employees do and how services are provided. Interns also attend a variety of meetings and work on projects to prepare them for municipal government work. 

DEI panelJoe Young and Malik Zeigler (second and third from left) with DEI Change Team.

The Schiele Museum turns 60!

When you think of The Schiele Museum of Natural History, the first thing that comes to mind may not be love. But Rudolph “Bud” Schiele loved nature. His intense interest in the natural world began when he was a boy in Philadelphia in the 1890s, wandering in nature, taking photographs and seeking out hiking trails. His first job was as an apprentice curator at the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia, and he dreamed of creating his own sanctuary to display his growing collection of photos, birds he had mounted, and other natural artifacts.

Bud Schiele WWI cropped2nd Lt. Bud SchieleIn 1916, love again changed Bud Schiele’s life. He married Lily Hobbs and the newlyweds spent their honeymoon gathering rocks, shells and other items for his ever-expanding collection. After serving in the Army in England and France during World War I, Bud Schiele returned to civilian life and began working for the Boy Scouts of America. He and Lily came to Gaston County in 1924 to open the Boy Scouts’ Piedmont Council headquarters in Gastonia.

Lily Schiele in native garbLily Schiele at the museumFor 38 years, the Schieles lovingly assembled an extensive collection of wildlife, rocks and minerals, and Native American pottery and jewelry, displaying them in their home and at the Scout office. Bud became an accomplished taxidermist, and he and Lily were outdoor enthusiasts, collectors, historians and educators. They never had children, but Lily considered the more than 100,000 boys who went through local Scouting programs as being like her own.

Museum opened in 1961

After Bud’s retirement from the Boy Scouts in 1959, the Schieles offered to donate their beloved biological and anthropological collection if the community would provide a building for a museum. Local officials, led by three former Boy Scouts who were now adults, raised the money. And on July 24, 1961, a 1,500-square-foot building opened on 2.2 acres on East Garrison Boulevard in Gastonia. It was called the Gaston County Museum of Natural History. Bud and Lily conducted museum tours, and Lily often dressed in indigenous clothing and explained aspects of Native American culture to museumgoers.

LtoR Brice Dickson Gov Terry Sanford Bud Schiele Hargrove Skipper Bowles...eEarly 1960s: Brice Dickson, NC Gov. Terry Sanford, Bud Schiele and "Skipper" Bowles at The SchieleThree years later, the museum’s ownership was transferred to the City of Gastonia for $1 and it was renamed The Schiele Museum of Natural History in honor of its founders and benefactors. “Bud and Lily Schiele both valued and respected nature, history and the diversity of the natural world,” says Dr. Ann Tippitt, the museum’s executive director. “Their belief in education through hands-on discovery continues here to this day.”

The Schieles’ original donation forms the core of the museum’s current collection, which has grown to more than 350,000 specimens. The Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is still on the original site, but now has a 77,000 square-foot building on a 20-acre campus. The museum houses animal specimens and habitats from across North America and the second-largest planetarium dome in the state.

The legacy growsSMNH NC School for Deaf Feb 19671967 school-group tour

Lily died in 1966 and Bud died in 1974, but the work they started continues to inspire awe and wonder about science and the natural world. Over the years, the museum has added dozens of indoor and outdoor exhibits including a nature trail, Catawba Indian Village exhibit, Earth Space Science Center, historical farm, and the iconic T-Rex in the lobby. In 2001, the museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate, allowing The Schiele to bring collections and resources from the Smithsonian Institution to Gastonia. The museum now attracts 96,000 visitors each year.  

schiele museum FrontTo celebrate its 60th anniversary, The Schiele will have special touches throughout the museum this summer, tributes from local leaders on social media, and a special website for visitors to share six decades’ worth of memories and photos.

Sixty years after their vast collections inspired the opening of The Schiele Museum, the legacy of Bud and Lily Schiele live on, not only in the exhibits, but in the enduring spirit of hands-on education and commitment to conservation that they loved so deeply.

See the August 2019 Employee Focus profile article about The Schiele

Schiele 60 banner

First City horticulturist takes Gastonia beyond 'garden variety'

It’s tempting to let the photos do all of the talking in this story: Pictures of colorful tulips against a blue spring sky. Reds, yellows and greens bursting to life in huge planters at FUSE. Pollinators making a beeline for specially designed gardens on City properties.

The amazing photos do speak for themselves. This article is about the person, philosophy and passion of the City’s first horticulturist, Heather Stephens. “Gastonia is on the cutting edge, and I am thrilled to be part of Gastonia and its future,” she says.  

Horticulture   Pretty
Stephens describes herself as a “working horticulturist.” She designs what will go in the beds and containers, deciding which plants to use and where they should go. She also buys the plants, puts them in the ground, prunes trees and shrubs, and pulls weeds. 

Horticulture   Working

Something else Stephens does for those picture-perfect beds: She enriches the soil. “The first thing I tackled was improving the soil and using really good soil amendments,” she says. “With all of these beds, my goal was to make the soil alive with beneficial fungi, compost and earthworms.” Worn out or sandy soil was replaced with fertile loam that will help her designs thrive.

Horticulture   Park and Rec

Stephens started with the City two years ago as a Landscape Tech in Parks and Recreation. It was part of a City plan to expand its horticultural efforts and, in Stephens’ words, “make Downtown spectacular.” Earlier this year, she was given the new job title.

Horticulture   FUSE and more“Heather has a vast knowledge of flowering plants and has made a huge difference in Downtown and other areas,” says Parks Department Assistant Director Tripp White. “The job she has done has earned her the horticulturalist position and she is a great asset to the City.”

Stephens has worked in horticulture for about 25 years. Her experience includes working in wholesale and retail settings, in the City of Charlotte’s arborist’s office, for a private company that did landscaping beds and containers, and as lead horticulturist at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden before coming to the City of Gastonia.

She is responsible for about 20 garden beds on City properties. She creates a design for which plants go in each bed, then maintains the plants. She also does the design-and-plant in about a dozen containers, such as bigger-than-a-bathtub red planters at CaroMont Health Park. Those showstopping containers and garden beds around Gastonia feature a delightful mix of plant colors, textures and sizes.

In addition to selecting plants known to do well in a certain location, such as sun-loving or shade-craving, Stephens wants them to be fuss-free and look good throughout the growing season. “I try to think about plants that are going to survive. Really tough ones that I can walk away from,” she says.

And she does what’s called succession planting. When designing a bed, she selects plants that look good at different times. “I know that this one is going to look really good in May,” she explains. “But it’s going to fade a bit into July. So I need something else to come up more vigorously.” So in mid-summer, she’ll cut back the May bloomer and let a different plant take center stage during the hottest weeks. Her designs include a series of ebb-and-flow successions that continue into October. 
Horticulture   Farmers Market
Earlier this year, she was busy with a major renovation outside of the Farmers Market. A tangle of overgrown bushes and lifeless soil was removed, the drainage system was improved, and the bed is now specially designed to attract pollinators that fertilize many flowers and vegetables. She enthusiastically describes what she has planted: an elegant trumpet vine, a Lady Baltimore hibiscus that she calls “extravagant,” the Grand Cascade butterfly bush with its “massive” 3-foot flower heads, and the 8-foot-tall bog salvia, which Stephens says is the best pollinator plant she’s ever worked with. She says the finished garden will be “pretty outrageous.”

A smaller pollinator garden at the Garland Center is also flourishing under Stephens’ nurturing care. She says bees from hives at the Rotary Community Garden on East Franklin Boulevard are buzzing a triangular route to the Garland Center garden, then to the flowers on the Dr. Martin Luther King Way bridge, and on to the new pollinator garden at the Farmers Market. “I really do appreciate the pollinator gardens,” she says. “The plants come back year after year, and you’re not spending so much effort and money.”

Those flowerboxes on the Dr. Martin Luther King Way bridge are another of her impressive projects. This summer, she’s created a rainbow of color with a red section, then pink, then yellow, then orange. Her supervisor is impressed. “One area that shows Heather’s work the best is the bridge on MLK,” White says. “Wow!”

Downtown business owner Jim Morasso also praises Stephens’ handiwork and the City’s decision to hire a horticulturist. “A walkable downtown needs pockets of beauty, areas that make you ponder the moment and an opportunity to smell the roses,” Morasso says. He adds that the City’s emphasis on plant-based beauty will “continue to inspire our residents and visitors to return to a city full of life and pride.” 

Horticulture   MLK May 
Stephens says her goal is to bring beauty and smiles into people’s busy worlds. “My main goal is to stop you for a second. Just to appreciate one flower,” she says. “When I see a flower and look at the beautiful creation of it, it’s stunning. The intricacy of something so complicated. Just to stop and look at it and admire it. That’s what I really want.”

Horticulture   Pollinator

 Horticulture   Final panel

New City CIO Brandon Jackson

His thoughts on the speed of change, phishing, fishing and more

With more than 30 years in information technology, Brandon Jackson works in a world of constant change. IT’s never-ending evolution affects more than the tangible products, like hardware and software. He says the biggest changes he’s observed are in delivery time and expectations.

Brandon Jackson“My kids grew up with the internet always being there, and that influences their expectations of society and the world around them,” Jackson says. “They’ve been able to get everything at a snap of the finger. Technology has improved and has been able to provide that, to a degree. And human expectation is expecting a faster delivery.”

Jackson says the rate of change in technology has always been fast. A few decades ago, improvements in hardware fueled the faster speeds. Today it’s an acceleration of what the applications are capable of. And society’s evolving expectations keep demanding that technology deliver even greater speed, compatibility and efficiency.

Many of the City’s basic services don’t change much from year to year. But how we deliver those services keeps changing, often because of technology. “Technology is one of the drivers that allows the City to provide those services and adapt to the continuous changes in the types of services and customer expectations,” Jackson says.

Years of tech and management experience       

Jackson became the City’s Chief Information Officer and head of the Technology Services Department on March 1, when Beverly Bieker retired. He had been the department’s assistant director and has worked for the City for almost four years. He was Gaston County’s CIO from 2004 to 2014. His more than three decades in information technology include 12 years in the public sector and 19 years in the private sector, from tiny startups to a Fortune 100 company.

He has been in management for about 25 years, and Jackson says that sparked a keen interest in learning about different social styles and personalities. “Early in my career, I thought that was all psychobabble,” he says. But a mentor helped him realize that successful leaders are those who learn to interact well with other people. Personality assessments like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram and DiSC helped him to better understand himself and others. “My personality was so strong early in my career that it got in my way,” he says. “I had to figure it out. And I had to figure out other people’s personalities so that I could adapt better.”

Jackson met his wife, Becky, while both were in the Air Force, and they’ve been married 31 years. They have two adult children. Their daughter, Tori, is married and is an accountant in Columbus, Ohio. Their son, Curtis, is engaged and will graduate this spring from N.C. State University with an engineering degree.

Phishing and other cybersecurity challenges

The City’s heavy reliance on technology to provide a wide range of services means we are vulnerable to hackers. Jackson says today’s cybercriminals are organized, highly skilled and often paid by foreign governments or other state-sponsored organizations overseas. And they are relentless.
Get to know Brandon Jackson
He says the City’s technology infrastructure is attacked on a “minute-by-minute basis.” As you read this article, our outer systems and firewalls are stopping at least a dozen attempts to penetrate the City’s systems. But Jackson says we are always vulnerable. “All it takes is one user to click the wrong link, and we are compromised,” he says. “It’s a question of when, not if.”

He describes recent hacking attempts that did not compromise the City but prompted Technology Services to conduct inventories and audits to analyze what happened. “Regardless of how hard you work at it, we can’t compete with international cybercrime,” he says. The constant threat means the City must allocate more staff time and money to cybersecurity. According to Jackson, the City must prepare the best that it can to prevent cyberattacks and know how to react and recover quickly when one does happen.

Fishing and catching more fish

Jackson says the technology that City employees use every day – especially the business applications – belong to the users. Not to Technology Services. “We’re the custodians. We manage security. We are the advisers and the consultants,” he says of his department. One of his goals is to empower City employees to take greater ownership of both their business problems and the technology solutions to those problems.

You know the old adage about catching fish for someone and feeding them for a day, or teaching them to fish and feeding them for a lifetime? He says sometimes Technology Services must catch and cook the “fish” – or identify and operate the technology solutions. But in many cases, City employees can be the ones doing the fishing. “There are 28 of us,” he says of Technology Services Department employees. “We can definitely fish for you. But if we don’t help you learn how to fish, we can only catch 28 fish at a time. If we educate you, the City can catch more fish and be a lot more productive.”

Technology’s role in change management

For Jackson, the greatest joy on the job is solving problems. One recent example is the successful software transition from Hansen to CityView for City planning, permitting and development. “One of my motivators is the accomplishment of rolling out an improvement,” he says. Also rewarding is something as small as adjusting a law enforcement officer’s radio to get rid of annoying static. “It’s seeing the smiles on users’ faces and their satisfaction,” he says.

Whether it’s a large launch or a tiny tweak, change is a constant at Technology Services – and in City service delivery. And Jackson sees a direct connection between technology project management and change management. “If you think about what information technology is, it’s constant flux and constant change,” he says. “So project management is something that I will want to put a little more emphasis on in Technology Services.”

What he does not want to change is the service-oriented culture of Technology Services. Department employees will continue to serve as advisers, consultants, custodians of technology systems, and “fishing teachers.” And they will continue efforts to protect the City’s technology from sophisticated and seemingly unrelenting cyberattacks. “We are here for you,” he says. That constant is reassuring, especially in a world where technology and expectations keep changing at breakneck speed.

City DEI Coordinator seeks commitment to community

It’s a new position for the City and a bit of a blank slate. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Cherie Jzar (pronounced sha-REE juh-ZAR) says she’s in “scanning mode.” Since Jan. 4, she’s been working on the second floor of City Hall. She says her first 90 days are being spent discovering what diversity, equity and inclusion look like for the City, both internally and externally.
cherie Jzar DEI Coordinator.1.11.21
“I am in a period of discovery to really understand the needs of every single department,” she says. “And they won’t all be the same.”

Jzar defines diversity, equity and inclusion as the City’s commitment to community. She points out the many ways Gastonia’s residents and employees are diverse, such as gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, age, religion, sexual orientation, family structure, national origin, socio-economic status, preferred language, disabilities, and more. “The work of a person like me is to make sure that everything the City does, such as policies, hiring, procurement and delivering services, is inclusive for everybody in the community,” she says.

About 50% of Jzar’s work will be external, focused on serving City customers and coordinating with community partners. The remaining half will be internal, focused on diversity and inclusion issues affecting the City’s diverse workforce. “Are there barriers that keep employees from bringing their ‘full selves’ to work?” she asks. “We should be intentional about creating a better work environment and about creating better service delivery to our residents.”

Jzar is using a methodical approach, honed by her education and 18 years of experience as a certified community planner. She says an essential part of planning are the social aspects of city development and human development. That includes heavy emphasis on gathering information, analyzing it, developing a process and implementing that process.

Returning to Gastonia

Born in Savannah, Georgia, but raised as an “Army brat,” Jzar has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia Southern University and a master’s degree in urban studies from Savannah State University. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and chaired the Diversity Task Force of the American Planning Association – North Carolina chapter.

Jzar worked for the City of Gastonia’s Planning Department from 2006-2012, using her maiden name of Collins. She assisted with Gastonia’s All-America City application in 2010 and was part of the delegation that made the presentation in Kansas City. “I helped frame the reason why we were an All-America City, and we won. It was an awesome experience,” Jzar says.

She also worked on annexation and historic district projects in Gastonia and did extensive demographic work for the City’s comprehensive plan, which emphasized the importance of redeveloping historic sites, specifically Loray Mill.

Most recently, Jzar worked as the City of Concord’s Community Outreach Coordinator, leading that city’s Neighborhood Program and a variety of citizen-engagement efforts.

Jzar and her husband have five children, from 22 to 3 years old. They converted their backyard into what she calls a “biology lab,” containing a 2,500-square-foot garden for vegetables and herbs, five bee hives and six chickens. The Jzar family enjoys the fresh honey, eggs, veggies and herbal teas, and sometimes sells any extras. She describes gardening as therapeutic.

Race and much more

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Google, Pandora and Pinterest have launched DEI programs in recent years. Gaston County hired its first Equity and Inclusion Director in 2020. From Asheville to Wilmington, city and county governments are making DEI a priority to foster workplace innovation, enhance trust and cultivate a welcoming community.

Jzar pull quoteIn 2018, Gastonia City management and City Council began developing a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. “We’re trying to make sure we are considering diversity, equity and inclusion in all of our decision-making,” says Mayor Walker Reid. “We need to make sure we’re being fair to everyone.” The strategy is to build a culture of understanding that embraces the differences, needs and struggles of individuals and groups so that the City can better serve its residents.

Jzar says that City leaders’ actions a couple of years ago were a proactive step to recognize Gastonia’s changing demographics. “I think that vision that the City Council had two years ago to embark on this journey was very timely,” she says. She notes that Gastonia’s commitment to address diversity, equity and inclusion came before 2020’s headlines about racial equality. “Things have happened recently that brought (race-related) issues to top-of-mind,” Jzar says. “But as an organization, we don’t want to follow the breaking news.”

Although race and ethnicity are often at the forefront of diversity discussions, Jzar says the City is using a broad definition of DEI. “A sole focus on race is not the approach we plan to take, because we would leave out other important aspects,” she says. She mentions differences in age, faith, gender, and sexual orientation as examples of other types of diversity in our community and in the City’s workforce. “Race might pop up as the one most top-of-mind-priority that coworkers are talking about and want to address. Or we might discover that it is religion,” she says. Jzar wants to cast a wide DEI net to understand people’s many diversities, differences and affinities.

As an example of DEI, she says Parks and Recreation has to take into account the barriers for someone who’s over 60 years of age, or barriers for young people who don’t drive. She says a City commitment to DEI might include providing information in a different language. Or hosting a meeting at a different time of day. Or making sure that a person with visual or mobility impairments can access City information or attend a City event.

According to Jzar, it’s not enough to acknowledge that diversity exists. Ensuring equity and inclusion often requires action. “We need to be very intentional about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And what impact, positive or negative, it’s having,” she says. “And then we need to be committed to change.” The action likely will include ongoing training for City managers and all levels of staff on topics like unconscious bias. It might include developing or updating some City policies to create equitable and inclusive experiences for everyone. An internal committee of City employees, especially frontline staff, may help identify opportunities for improvement.

Salty french fries and DEI

The City already has nondiscrimination policies, is an Equal Opportunity Employer and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jzar says DEI is about following the many applicable laws but also about influencing the internal culture. As an example, she describes a hypothetical restaurant that serves salty french fries. Customers with high blood pressure should not order the fries because of the high sodium levels. “It’s not against Food and Drug Administration rules to put salt on your fries, but you want to meet the needs of your customers,” Jzar says. “So maybe you offer the option of fries with no added salt. You evolve to meet the needs of your customers.”

Jzar emphasizes there is no one-size-fits-all formula for DEI. “This work is not one-and-done. It’s ongoing. It will take time,” she says.

To Jzar, commitment to community goes beyond scanning and analysis. It goes beyond enacting policies and processes. It even goes beyond training, advising and collaborating. Commitment to community must be deeply rooted in the City of Gastonia’s core values, bearing fruit in employees’ daily interactions with coworkers and customers. Jzar says a compelling commitment to community must become part of the City’s culture. “We want to promote a culture of inclusiveness,” she says, “where we break down any barriers that might exist for someone.”

About the GC3/Law Enforcement Covenant

Covenant pictureGastonia Police Chief Travis Brittain recently answered some questions for the Employee Focus newsletter about the covenant between the Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3) and Gaston County Law Enforcement.

Q. What was involved in developing the covenant?

There were some very difficult conversations. The comfort levels weren’t exactly there, but there was the willingness to sit down and have those discussions and get upset but still stay at the table. When you have folks collectively sit down together and spend time on something, one, that they believe in and, two, they know is going to be important moving forward well into the future and they go through those throes, the back and forth, debate, discussion. Whenever that document is finalized it only makes it that much more important and valuable, especially to those that are building it because you put that investment in it. You may have acquiesced to something here or there, and you may have stood firm on another, but at the end of the day the collective, everybody agreed this is a covenant, we’re comfortable with it, we can abide by it, we’ll put our names on it.

Being involved in some of that, watching that process was educational and enlightening. To see all of these people knowing, having the forethought that this thing is going to be important and be a very valuable instrument for us moving forward.

It’s like Rodney (Freeman) and I have always said, it’s not if, it’s just when. It’s easy to be jovial and happy and bubbly in the good times. Tough times are when you put the covenant to the test. If you truly believe in it and you truly utilize it, then things are going to be a lot easier. Doesn’t mean they’re going to be easy, but they’ll be a lot easier.

Q. Were there any eye-openers for you?

Meeting Rodney. Befriending him and that friendship developing into something that was an eye-opener for me in that I ended up having a friendship with a Black pastor that I never thought I would have. It gave me an opportunity to see and hear things that I didn’t know that were right there in front of me. That community sees the police differently. And hearing that and being able to have those discussions, having candid discussions with Rodney and being intentional about it, it just developed into a friendship where I can pick up the phone and call anytime and talk. 

There are times when we’ve had discussions, we disagree or we may not be very happy about something, but it opens your eyes to things that maybe you didn’t know before. The optics are different because you’re talking to somebody who’s being candid with you and telling you stuff even when it might be uncomfortable. Maybe the way that you see things doesn’t mean that’s how they are because people look at them differently.

I might have an opinion of what the Black community thinks about me coming in there as a white police officer, but it could be completely different and it is. Those are some of the conversations we’ve had. From that developed the conversations that you have when we have these big events going on and working with each other and saying 'Hey this covenant really means something' and calling at 10 o’clock at night and saying 'Hey this is what I’m hearing, what are you hearing?' Having that relationship and that trust. That’s the core, the trust.

Q. After George Floyd’s death and around the time of Confederate Monument protests and protests at Tony’s Ice Cream last summer, videos were done at City Church and Chief Helton and Dr. Freeman did a Facebook Live. And there were lots of meetings with churches. Were those meetings tense?

Some were tense, but they were meetings that needed to be held. The transparency that this agency has to provide for the public to see, to be willing to go out and have those conversations. And the trust part of it. Knowing that we’ll tell you what we can tell you. We’ll share what we can share. There are things we can’t, but we’ll do everything we can because that relationship is important. And you may leave not happy. We may leave not happy. But you know what, we met, we talked. And then it can’t be said that we didn’t come to the table.

Q: What do you think the biggest challenges and benefits of the covenant are?

The biggest challenge of the covenant is the people who have not had to exercise it don’t realize the value of it. Then the biggest benefit is the value of the covenant. It is a really important piece for Gastonia PD and for law enforcement here in this county. It’s more than something you can put your name on. It’s not like I can have an issue in a neighborhood and pull the covenant out of the car and say, 'Hey we’re good.' But what I do have is people that I can call and people that I can reach out to, people who trust that what I say is the truth. And I can share as much as I can share. That’s the core of that covenant.

And realizing I don’t have any idea what it is to be Black. Rodney doesn’t know what it is to be white. That’s the piece, the crux of the whole thing, being intentional, being willing to listen, and being willing to say maybe things do need to be done differently. Maybe just because of our positions, pastors, chiefs, doesn’t mean that we know everything.

Being at Franklin and Avon at 11 o’clock at night and having clergy call, checking and saying, 'Hey what do you need? Tell us what you need.' That’s big.

Q. Some of those experiences, like the realization that not all police have been good in communities or people have been taught not to trust or talk with the police. Were a lot of those stories shared when you were hashing out the covenant to explain a point of view?

Certainly. GC3 and Gaston Together realized that need was there and you’re never going to have complete trust. Because you’ll have a Floyd or something may happen here that causes that trust to erode, and we’ll just have to start over again. It’s continuous. It’s just like gardening or anything else, you plant it and you don’t walk away. You have to keep tending to it. Sometimes it’s painful, but you have to do it. We are never going to be perfect; something could be happening right now and we have to prepare for it.

Update on economic development projects

Plans for a new restaurant and apartments in a historic brick bottling plant. Loft-style apartments in an iconic Gastonia mill building. A taproom and nano-brewery across the street from the ballpark with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The renovations and revitalizations are aimed at complementing the ballpark to bring more people and more activity to the Franklin Sports + Entertainment District.

FUSE DistrictIt was four years ago that the Gastonia City Council voted to purchase three parcels of land that now comprise the majority of the FUSE District. On Oct. 4, 2016, the City bought the old Trenton Mill property, the former Coca-Cola plant, and the 6-acre Sears building and parking lot west of Downtown. A few months later, the City bought the Budget Inn. Sears and the motel were torn down, and that land is where the ballpark is now being built.

The City planned to sell the additional parcels, which border the ballpark, to private developers who would invest millions of dollars to turn those lots and buildings into a trendy spot to eat, shop, relax and live. Four years later, that’s exactly what’s taking shape.

Coca-Cola bottling plant

Coca Cola 4The stately brick Coca-Cola building at the corner of Franklin Boulevard and Trenton Street dates back to the 1930s. But the original building is easy to overlook. Numerous expansions, first made from brick, then stark white metal, dwarf the landmark building at the corner. In recent years, the Coca-Cola plant was home to a metal fabrication business.

Two weeks ago, the City Council approved selling the Franklin-facing segment of the Coca-Cola building to the Lenox Development Group. The company plans a $5 million investment to create a mixed-use development. Their vision is to preserve the original brick structure while renovating the interior to possibly include a restaurant, apartments in the upper floors with rooftop terraces overlooking the ballpark, and a speakeasy in the basement. In Phase 2, the company might convert the metal section into what’s described as “car condominiums” – a great place for car lovers to store, display and talk shop about vehicles.

The City earlier divided the sprawling Coca-Cola property into three development pads. On the north side, at 126. S. Trenton St., Durty Bull Brewing Co. plans to open a taproom early next year. The Durham-based brewery will feature 5,000 square feet indoors and another 5,000 square feet outdoors. The taproom will be linked to the proposed mixed-use development with a pedestrian walkway, and the two developments will share a parking lot.

Coca Cola aerial


Trenton Mill Lofts

Trenton Mill and mayorIt’s Gastonia’s oldest textile mill building that is still standing – and will soon be turned into 89 loft-style apartments in the FUSE District. Trenton Mill was purchased by the Lansing Melbourne Group, which is converting the historic brick building into residences. Lansing Melbourne’s total investment in the project is $24.3 million. At the Oct. 30 groundbreaking ceremony, Peter Flotz of Lansing Melbourne promised to "protect and enhance" the 127-year old brick building. Frank White, president of Kaufman Lynn Construction, said it is exciting to work on a building "that has witnessed the history of this community." The cotton mill at 612 W. Main Ave. operated without interruption for 80 years, from 1893 to 1972. It is named for the 1776 Battle of Trenton (New Jersey) during the Revolutionary War, in which General George Washington won a pivotal victory. Residents are expected to move into the apartments at Trenton Mill by the end of 2021.

Center City Crossing

Center City CrossingA six-story, 90-unit apartment building will be built in the 100 block of West Main Avenue. The City Council voted last month to approve the sale of the property and Kuester Development has begun work at the site, with the company’s total investment estimated at $21.5 million. Center City Crossing will feature 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2022. It is being built where the previous Center Theater had to be condemned and removed for safety. For the past 10 years, the site was a temporary park.

 
Project NORTH POINT

North Point site   Google Earth 2020The City of Gastonia and Gaston County are offering grant money and financial incentives to develop more than 350 acres north of I-85 at Cox Road. The site, in the cities of Gastonia and Lowell, is to be developed into warehouse, distribution and office facilities. The project is in its early stages and is expected to provide thousands of new jobs and expand the local tax base. The Gastonia City Council voted unanimously on Oct. 6 to offer an economic development grant for the project through the federal Opportunity Zone program, matching a grant incentive offered by Gaston County.

Maurice Taylor III
Profiles of City employees who are military veterans

Profiles of City employees who are military veterans

Brad Noftell, U.S. Navy; Public Utilities/Wastewater

Brad Noftell had planned to be a drummer. He started drum lessons when he was 3 years old and entered college as a music major. That’s when he realized how difficult it might be to make a living as a professional musician. “Let’s face it, the music industry is very competitive,” Noftell says. “And music was more of a hobby for me.” So he graduated from college without knowing what career path he should follow.

At age 25, he joined the Navy. He considered becoming a career military officer, but, at the very least, he wanted to learn skills that he could use as a Noftell photocivilian. In the Navy, Noftell says he gained technical knowledge that would have cost him a lot of money to learn in school. He also learned how to adapt quickly to new situations and to a range of people and personalities.

Noftell was in the Navy for seven years. He was stationed in Guam for three years and was on ships that took him to places like Japan, China, Australia and Russia. “My experiences and what I was taught in the Navy help me all the time in everyday life,” he says. “From the technical side, to the responsibility side, to communication.”

Noftell is now an operator at the Long Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. He says the City of Gastonia was welcoming to him as a military veteran and values his experiences in the Navy.

According to Noftell, Veterans Day is a day to honor and celebrate the men and women who have gone before him to defend our freedom and democracy around the world.

Travis Butler, U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard; Public Works/Equipment Services

Travis Butler knows the meaning of sacrifice. In January, two months after his wife gave birth to twin boys, Butler was deployed on a seven-month mission to Kuwait. He didn’t see his sons, or his wife and 2-year-old daughter, until he returned from National Guard duty on Aug. 6.

Travis ButlerButler served in the U.S. Air Force as a fuels technician for six years, followed by seven years in the Air Force Reserves. In 2017, he joined the Air National Guard.

He has been deployed to the Middle East four times and was sent to Maine and Alaska. In the National Guard, he was sent to Kinston, North Carolina, to help deliver food and water in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in 2018. And he went to Kuwait in January, leaving his wife with newborn twins and a toddler. “Oh, yeah, it was very hard,” Butler says of leaving his family. “But my wife is a trooper. And the brighter side is that I was deployed earlier on, rather than later on. So we tried to knock it out now (his deployment to the Middle East).”

When asked about his reunion with his family in August, Butler says, “It was great. The best part of leaving is coming home.”

Butler says he chose to join the military after high school because he wasn’t ready to go to college. He was influenced by his father, aunt, uncle and grandfather who had served in various branches of the Armed Forces. Butler and his wife met while they were both in the Air Force, and they chose to settle in Huntersville in 2008. Butler got his bachelor’s degree in business using the G.I. Bill.Travis Kuwait

For the past three years, he has worked as a mechanic for Public Works/Equipment Services and was recently promoted to automotive maintenance supervisor. He says the City has always worked to accommodate his schedule changes and deployments as a member of the National Guard.

Butler acknowledges that Veterans Day can be awkward for some, as civilians fumble to find the right words to thank those who have served. “The face-to-face stuff can be hard,” he says. “But just say ‘thank you.’ It goes a long way. Thanking has always been enough for me.” 

Although people thank veterans like him for their service, Butler says he wants to thank other veterans. “I want to pay them back in some way for the freedoms I have received,” he says. Rather than thinking Veterans Day is about him, Butler says it is “more about those who served before us and paved the way.”

Maurice Taylor Jr., U.S. Navy; Police

Maurice Taylor Jr. says the military took him out of his comfort zone, gave him his perspective on life, provided the opportunity to earn two master’s degrees, and gave him the honor of caring for wounded or dying Marines and sailors. Taylor served for seven years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, which is similar to an emergency medical technician.

Maurice Jr.Taylor grew up in Philadelphia, which he calls “a rough city.” When he was about 6 years old, he saw someone murdered. He got a football scholarship to Temple University, but the former high school honor student spent more time hanging out with friends than studying. With his football scholarship collapsing, he decided to reinvent himself and join the U.S. Navy. He had been in the Army Reserves while in college.

Because he loved the medical field, he served as a hospital corpsman with the Navy from 1992 to 1999. An accident during field maneuvers crushed his hip and knee joints. Once again, Taylor had to reinvent himself, as he could not stay in the military until retirement, as he had planned. The petty officer third class was honorably separated due to medical conditions and placed on inactive reserves from 1999 until 2002.

Taylor went on to earn a master’s degree in education and a master’s in criminal justice, and he is now a detective with the Gastonia Police Department. “The military gave me a new perspective on life,” he says. “I got a chance to see that there was good in the world and not everyone was out to get you.”

Maurice Taylor IIITaylor says tending to the sick, wounded and dying was “vital” to his maturity and growth. “As a hospital corpsman, you get used to the pedestal your Marines and sailors place you on. They would always say, ‘Take care of Doc’, as they would call me,” Taylor says. He explains that his fellow service members wanted to make sure that the Navy’s medical personnel were taken care of, so that the “doctors” could care for the wounded, if necessary.

Taylor’s son, Maurice Taylor III, followed in his father’s footsteps. The son (pictured right) joined the Navy where he was an aviation structural mechanic and petty officer second class, and he was deployed to Japan while in the Navy Reserves. Maurice Taylor III is now a patrolman with the Gastonia Police Department.

Veterans Day is important to Detective Taylor. In particular, he remembers those who served and did not survive. “Veterans Day means a lot to me,” he says. “It is a time to reflect on the many good Marines and sailors who served and gave their last breath with me.”

City Website Redesign

 

CityOfGastonia HOME old           2020CityWebsite HomePage
 Previous homepage     New homepage


Websites are the gateway to a company or organization’s philosophy, products and services. And Google estimates there are about 80,000 searches submitted every second on its search engine. The last time the City updated the overall look of its website was about eight years ago and a lot has changed in cyberspace since then.

“It was time for our website to reflect a more modern and organized look and feel,” says Mary Elliott, director of Communications and Marketing. So the department sat down in late 2019 with Tech Services and web content administrators to determine where to begin.

Each City department and many divisions have at least one employee who is responsible for writing and updating the content of their department’s information on the website. The City’s 28 web content administrators are the ones who provide updated and accurate information, photos, forms and links on their respective webpages. And website updates are typically one of many duties those content administrators juggle each day.

During the past year, members of the website team gave their feedback on ways to improve the City website’s navigation, organization and design. An outside vendor helped bring the design concepts to life.

NewWhen you go to our new website, the first thing you’ll notice is the large photographs across the top of the homepage with the City’s marketing tagline: Come Eat. Come Shop. Come Downtown. “We hope the photos and new marketing tagline will attract more interest and keep people on our website so that they can discover news about our city and get the information that residents want and need,” Elliott says.

The goal of Phase I of the website refresh was to update the appearance and design. Phase II, which begins in January, will focus on improving the navigation and user experience. For now, Elliott hopes web visitors will embrace the small changes that are intended to make a big difference.

“Thank you to everyone for your hard work and patience,” Elliott says. “It’s a work in progress and we think it is well worth the time and effort we will spend to continue making our website attractive and informative.”

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Gastonia, N.C., just minutes west of Charlotte, is one of the area’s best places to live and work with an ideal combination of location, size and livability. Gastonia is the largest of Gaston County’s 13 municipalities and one of the largest cities in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Selected as an All-America City three times, Gastonia’s desirable quality of life is the result of its beautiful natural surroundings, friendly neighborhoods, responsive government and vibrant business environment.










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