You love small towns – particularly the one where you live and work.
But you feel an itch to try something new. That will mean pulling up stakes and moving you wife and children to a strange place.
It’s a big decision. You give it a lot of thought. Then you decide to go ahead.
James Inman, the new city manager in Bessemer City, recently followed a scenario like that.
Inman, 48, his wife and five children pulled up stakes in the city of Locust in Stanley and Cabarrus counties.
For nine years, he’s been the city administrator there. It’s a small town – just 3,010 – straddling two counties, but he loved it. Previously, he’d been the Locust police chief for a total of 20 years in the city.
He wasn’t unhappy there. But he had that itch to be challenged a little more.
So Inman left Locust – “the City With a Soul” – and moved to the Gaston County municipality that bills itself as “the City With a Heart.”
In Bessemer, Inman fills a post recently held by Allan Farris, who died in January following a battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
Nobody loved Bessemer City more than the 66-year-old Farris. He grew up there and served as a City Council member, mayor pro tem, mayor, interim city manager and manager.
Since Farris’ death, longtime City Clerk Janice Costner has been serving as interim city manager. She’s planning to retire later this year after nearly 30 years with the city.
Inman was among the more than 60 people who applied for the manager’s position
Mayor Becky Smith told me the first time she met Inman she knew “he would be a perfect fit” for Bessemer City.
He had the experience, the qualifications and the right answers to the City Council’s questions, she said. Also, he was down-to-earth and family-oriented.
“He’s come in and hit the floor running,” Smith said. “He has a passion for Bessemer City. I think he’ll fit right in with our community.”
Working in England
Inman’s affection for small towns goes back to his childhood. He grew up in Waynesville, county seat of Haywood County. “Gateway to the Smokies,” the town slogan once proclaimed.
Inman’s folks had been around the North Carolina mountains for generations. He has an 1820 vintage family Bible that lists many of their names.
Among them is his mother, Lovay Inman; she’s buried on Cold Mountain, where the family reunion is held every August.
Inman’s father was Waynesville police officer.
Living close to the downtown, Inman made the rounds on his bicycle, stopping at such places as the Curb Market, where he looked at comic books. In general, downtown had about dried up when he knew it back then. But that’s changed, Inman said. Local folks set out to revive the central business district, and it’s now thriving, he said.
After graduating from Tuscola High School in 1981, Inman majored in criminal justice at Pheiffer University. When he got a degree in 1985, he embarked on something that had little to do with his course of study.
Employed by the World Methodist Council, Inman spent a year in Plymouth, England, working with street kids.
Heavily bombed by the Germans during World War II, Plymouth still bore the scars. Working in church and youth activities, “I probably gained more than I gave,” Inman said. “I learned how hard life can be.”
One of the most important lessons he came away with was this: Don’t judge people by how they look but how they are inside.
Back in the states, Inman went to work in law enforcement, determined that “everybody should be treated equally.”
Police work was a family tradition. First, Inman was police chief in Locust and then became a detective in the Concord Police Department.
He still keeps his law enforcement certification and has occasionally worked on weekends in Locust.
Inman said he and his wife, Michelle, along with their three sons and two daughters, made 20 trips to Gaston County, just to check things out even before the manager’s job was offered to him.
They liked what they saw.
‘Excitement about community’
In Locust, Inman ran an operation with a $3 million budget; Bessemer City’s budget is $10 million.
He wants to carry on the work that Allan Farris started. As it was for Farris, revitalization will be important for Inman. Along with “creating a sense of excitement about the community,” he said.
As Inman prepared for the new job, his sister called from the mountains and told him to look inside the family Bible for an old telegram she remembered.
You may find a connection to Bessemer City, she said.
Inman looked and sure enough – there it was.
Sent in 1924, the telegraph was about his great-great-grandfather, a mountain man who’d wound up in Gaston County; at that moment, he was on his death bed.
“Take the train to Bessemer City if you want to see him alive,” the telegram advised.
Inman learned his great-grandfather is buried in Bessemer City.
The full story behind the telegram is something he’ll have to unravel over time.
Meanwhile, he’s getting down to the business at hand, putting his heart and soul into Bessemer City.