When Ashley Smith graduated from college he had three goals: one was to serve on the Conway City Council, another was to serve as the city’s mayor, but number one was to work as Conway’s recreation director.
He’s already fulfilled the goal of serving on city council, and his number one goal is about to be met.
Beginning July 15, he’ll step into the top slot at Conway’s recreation department with an entry-level salary of $74,936. The job also comes with a car.
Of course, to take the position he’ll have to vacate his city council post a little early.
Smith said he did not politick for the job with his fellow council members, but after some of them approached him, he discussed the possibility with his wife and family and, together, they decided that he should agree to be considered.
He wants everybody to know that his position on council didn’t influence council’s unanimous vote in his favor, and there was no inside dealing.
People could have claimed that there was some kind of shenanigans going on if he had been named police or fire chief, he said, because he’s definitely not qualified for either of those positions.
But recreation director is different; he’s qualified for that job.
“It’s legitimate,” he said. “I feel good about it.”
As a young boy, he hung out around the recreation department when there were only three employees, Sandra Smart, Ken Senn and Billy Gardner. They all worked together in the little department on Twelfth Avenue and dealt with each other as family. That’s the feeling he hopes to create again, despite the much larger size of the department now.
“This is going to be a team effort,” he said, adding that he plans to meet with each employee individually.
Early Tuesday morning, only hours after he was tapped for the post he was at Conway High School meeting with the school’s new athletic director Jason Cox building a relationship with him. They plan to add some others, with the goal of working together for the people of Conway.
Councilwoman Jean Timbes calls the decision to put Smith at the head of the recreation department “a no-brainer.”
“I think that he’s the right choice for the job. We hope that things are going to be a win-win for everybody, but especially the City of Conway. You know he’s well liked and well known. I think people will understand his reasoning,” she said about his decision to leave council and take the city job.
“There’s just a lot of things that he does that made him a good council member, but this is a temporary, part-time job. I feel like his major focus in life has been sports.”
She said he works well with people and listens to them.
“He’s just a people person. People will talk to him…I’m very pleased and I did encourage him to do it. It’s a big career move for him. I wanted him to have an opportunity to see what he can do,” she said.
Councilman William Goldfinch is another big Smith supporter, who says he encouraged him to take the job.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “I think this is absolutely what the city needed…I think it just fits. People associate Ashley with the Recreation Center and it just makes sense…when we started talking about this awhile back, there was temporarily a little bit of concern that this may look like home cooking,” he said.
But, he said, when he was elected to council he took an oath to do what was in the city’s best interest, and he believes this is in the city’s best interest.
He said the director’s position is extremely important and needs to be filled by someone who is highly qualified. He said Smith worked with the department for eleven years and, now with his council experience, he will have a unique perspective that most employees never have understanding the realities of how things work. He used budgetary concerns as an example.
Goldfinch said he’s most excited for youth athletics.
“That’s his passion and that’s an area that’s just sort of not been going well and he’s got plans to rectify that, not to mention that beautiful facility is filthy and he’s going to clean it up…I’m pumped,” Goldfinch said.
Goldfinch said his support for Smith ran through the entire council.
“The vote was unanimous to put Ashley in there. It just made sense,” he said.
But, he said, despite his admiration for Smith he didn’t cast his vote based on what was best for the former councilman.
He voted the way he did because it was the best thing for the City of Conway.
What’s next for council
The council members say they should be able to limp along with only six members until an election is held.
Smith’s resignation won’t require a special election because there are less than 180 days left in his term so the position will be filled at the same time that voters cast their votes for two other council members and the mayor.
The council members whose terms are expiring are Larry White and Tom Anderson, who are both expected to run for re-election, along with Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, who also is expected to seek another term.
Smith said he was beginning to feel a little emotional about leaving council during his final meeting Monday night.
Leaving is bittersweet, he said, adding that he has learned a lot from his service and accomplished his two top goals for his council service. One was getting an inclusive playground for the city and the other was making it possible for lots of kids to be able to use the recreation center.
And, he said, “I can help more people working at the recreation center than I can being on city council. That’s my goal – I want to help people and kids.”
He said he applied for the recreation job when a former council tapped Foster Hughes.
When he didn’t get the job then he thought his chances were over, but not so.
“I think this is a calling…God does things in his timing,” he said.
In a press release from the city, city administrator Adam Emrick said he is thrilled about Smith’s hiring.
“There is not any other candidate who has the breadth of knowledge as a former employee, as a parent, as a coach, and as an elected official that can bring this position the depth of knowledge to lead us into the future,” Emrick said.
Smith is a resident of the City of Conway and has served the city as a council member, leader, teacher and coach. He already has experience in the Conway Recreation Department having previously worked at the recreation center for more than a decade, according to the official statement.
Smith has spent the past few years working as a teacher and coach for the Horry County School District.
Smith also says that leaving his job at Conway Elementary School as a technology instructor was a tough decision.
“I’m going to miss the kids, but I will see the kids at the recreation center and at different events. I said it was time for a move. I was getting a little stagnant. I needed a challenge, and this is going to be the biggest challenge of my life,” he said.
Thirty-five people applied for the job. That breaks down to 26 men and nine women. Twenty-nine of the applicants live in South Carolina, three in North Carolina and one each in Delaware, Louisiana and Indiana.