University City

University City man prepared to lead county

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones, recently announced he was dealing with an illness that could potentially cause him to take some time away from the office.

Jones told the county commissioners and the public that he thought General Manager Bobbie Shields could readily step in for him if an extended absence is necessary.

Bobbie Shields has been a University City resident for more than 20 years. He has worked in various capacities with Mecklenburg County for 25 years.

Shields said he doesn't think it will be necessary for him to step in as acting county manager, but he is willing to take on any additional responsibility Jones assigns to him.

It is understandable that he could readily lead Mecklenburg County. As general manager of Mecklenburg County, Shields is responsible for leading the county's Sustainable Community Focus Area Leadership Team and economic development initiatives.

He also oversees Land Use and Environmental Services, Park and Recreation and Economic Development Services. As a member of the executive leadership team, Shields shares responsibility for overall executive administration.

Asked whether he would want to be county manager someday, Shields said, "It has been my pleasure for the past 12 years to work as part of the county's executive team and experience 'county-manager-like' accountability and responsibility, without ... the title." He said he clearly understands the politics involved.

"Often, the county manager's title functions like a lightning rod for those who are not satisfied, for whatever reason. That being said, it would be a great honor to serve in such a capacity."

Shields grew up in Halifax County.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from N.C. State University, a master of engineering degree from the University of South Carolina and an MBA in finance and organizational development from UNC Charlotte. His first job out of college was as an engineer at Duke Power.

When Shields arrived in Charlotte in 1975, he developed an interest in government. He saw Charlotte as a community of politically engaged citizens with a common interest in making it a better place to live.

"There was a sense that young professionals like myself were expected to get involved in the community and help," he said.

He saw many political and business leaders he could learn from.

"I observed that government services seemed to be provided disproportionately based on the strength of voices in the communities and the residents' knowledge of how government worked."

While at Duke Power, Shields served on the Mecklenburg County Drainage Commission. In 1986 he was named the county's deputy director of engineering. Later he was promoted to director of county engineering, director of engineering and building and standards, then Assistant County Manager and now to general manager.

"The hardest lesson for me, as a trained engineer, is that logic and common sense do not always prevail in the public arena. Fortunately, they prevail most of the time," Shields said.

Right now, at the top of his "to do" list is monitoring the local economy and assessing the effect the prolonged recession is having on local resources.

He said his service to the community is rewarding.

"I am very much involved in working with various public- and private-sector partners to make sure that Mecklenburg County is the best choice for businesses, residents and visitors. That is the part of my current job that I really enjoy, and my optimism very seldom waivers."

As for the biggest challenges he faces now, Shields said one is "... balancing economic reality with public or customer-service expectations." He admits the last several years have been tough economically. "Charlotte-Mecklenburg has a zeal to succeed - and we will."

Shields has been married to his wife, Carol, for 37 years. They are the parents of three successful and accomplished adult children (a son and twin daughters). They are also proud of their six grandchildren. He enjoys kayaking, fishing, hunting, gardening and guitar playing.

His time in Charlotte has taught him a lot, he said. He continues to see the county's potential.

"I have grown professionally and continue to appreciate what this community has to offer for anyone willing to get involved, especially in service to others."