Former Cherryville City Manager Ben Thomas Blackburn Jr. will return to his old position after a decade, the city announced Wednesday.
Currently the city manager in Lowell, Blackburn received the backing of the City Council after being chosen from a field of 21 applicants.
The Cherryville native served as the city’s manager from 2000 to 2002 and planning/community development director from 1994 to 2000. He is set to assume the city manager position a second time Dec. 1, with an annual salary of $72,000.
Blackburn told the Times-News he couldn’t be more thrilled to return to Cherryville, where he’s maintained his residence during his 10-year tenure with Lowell.
“That’s where I was born and raised, and I’m going back home,” he said.
He and his wife Robin, a local middle school teacher, have two children, Alex and Emily, and are active members of Cherryville’s First United Methodist Church.
During a year when Cherryville has undergone investigations by both the State Bureau and Federal Bureau of Investigations involving alleged crooked cops and city employees, Blackburn said he looks forward to restoring citizens’ “confidence in government” and has no doubt his city is still comprised of “good people.”
In the same way someone’s life isn’t defined by one aspect, but rather its entirety, he said the city of Cherryville is not defined by its shameful moments.
“Cherryville will see itself through,” he said. “It’s a town of resilience. It has that at its core.”
City Council terminated former City Manager David Hodgkins this summer, and Fire Chief Jeff Cash assumed the position on an interim basis. Mayor Bob Austell refuted the idea that city officials fired Hodgkins as result of SBI’s investigation into financial inconsistencies the city had been experiencing since December. He told the Times-News in a previous article that the city simply “needed new leadership.”
Utility Customer Service Supervisor Jennifer Hoyle, 34, of Cherryville, was later charged with 10 counts of embezzling city funds.
Her husband, Mark Hoyle, 39, also of Cherryville, was arrested last month in connection with an FBI undercover operation designed to catch crooked area law enforcement officers.
In addition to Hoyle, five other men have been arrested in the case for charges involving transporting stolen goods through the area — aiding undercover agents posing as criminals — and accepting cash bribes.
Defendants include Cherryville resident John Ashley Hendricks, 47, Cherryville police officers, Casey Crawford, 32, Frankie Dellinger, 40, and David Paul Mauney III, 23, and Gaston County Sheriff’s reserve officer Wesley Golden, 39.
Once the city suspended the department’s Chief Woodrow Burgess and Capt. Mike Allred Sr., Cash took over as interim chief until naming Sgt. Cam Jenks acting police chief late last month.
Burgess has since resigned from the position and filed retirement papers.
The Gaston County District Attorney’s Office has also dismissed nearly 60 cases, mostly traffic violations, that required testimonies from the charged officers.