Outgoing top official looks back on time in Hanover

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm

One of Hanover’s top officials recently accepted a post as Henrico’s next deputy county manager following a 22-year career here.

Joe Casey learned about Hanover County government through his first post-graduate job, as a CPA with the accounting firm KPMG, which conducted the county’s audits in the late 1980s.

Joe Casey will leave his post in Hanover at the end of January.

“I got to know them as a good client, and then I was intrigued,” Casey said. “When I was 25 years old, I remember telling my wife, … ‘This is the kind of company I would want to work for someday when I grow up.’ She said, ‘So why don’t you grow up now?’”

Casey joined the Hanover staff in 1990 at 26. A combination of skill and luck expedited his career.

Then-Finance Director Rhu Harris hired him as the assistant director of his department. Within a few months, Deputy County Administrator Richard Johnson was promoted to county administrator, and Harris was promoted to deputy county administrator. This bumped Casey up to acting finance director and, shortly later, finance director.

In 2004, Harris became county administrator and promoted Casey to deputy county administrator.

Casey never assumes full credit for any of Hanover’s accomplishments during his tenure.

“There is nothing I can point to or show that says that this is an individual success. It’s really a combination of the citizens of Hanover, businesses, employees, and elected officials,” he said.

“If people think that Hanover has improved over the last 20 years or is a nice place to raise a kid, and all those other good facets, I’m just happy I was a part of it,” he added.

Economic recessions have been the bookends of Casey’s career in Hanover.

“All recessions are similar in the fact that you have to figure out how to retrench and figure out what are the highest priorities and focus on them continually,” he said.

The 1990 recession may have been quicker to resolve itself, but it came at a time of high growth and costly school construction. Those are not major issues in today’s recession.
“If we had a compounding factor of high growth or recent major capital projects pressuring us further, we would have a much harder time during the length of this recession,” Casey said.

In the early 1990s, Hanover’s bond rating was A. Today, it’s triple-AAA, meaning that the three major agencies—Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s—each rate Hanover AAA.

Of all the counties to achieve this distinction nationwide, Hanover has the smallest population.

Casey outlined four factors that helped Hanover achieve and maintain this rating.

First is to “run a good fiscal ship” with balanced budgets and plans for future expenses.

Next, have effective economic strategies that facilitate low unemployment and successful businesses.

Also, counties shouldn’t take on too much debt. Casey noted that Hanover holds a relatively low per-capita debt burden, roughly $1,000 per resident.

Last is the “administrative factor.”

“That means—are the people who work here mindful of the shop? Are the elected officials … paying attention to those other three—the finance, economics, and debt—to ensure that those bond payments will be made in the future?” he explained.

The path to Hanover’s current bond rating began in the early 1990s, when a mostly new Board of Supervisors took office and promoted the development of long-term financial strategies.

“One of those strategies was to succeed in all of those facets, those four areas I mentioned, and a byproduct of it would hopefully be an increase in bond rating,” he said.

“We knew with the demands upon us, we’d be issuing more debt for schools and libraries and parks, and that a higher bond rating would have a lower borrowing cost, if we get a lower interest rate.”

The high bond ratings have saved taxpayer money over the years.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about spending the least amount of money and getting the most asset for it,” he said.

Casey describes himself as a “lifelong learner.” He’s currently wrapping up his Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I feel as though after 22 years, I’m still learning things. I’m just not learning them in the volume that I had once learned them. Henrico is a whole new environment,” he said.

“You have a skill, but if you go into a different community, it’s a whole new way of dealing with it,” he added.

Casey hopes that in Henrico, he learns “another way in which a government does good things.”

Casey’s responsibilities will be similar in scope to his present role.

He said he will miss working with his Hanover colleagues. Hanoverians “care so much about their community and have many ideas about how to make the community better,” he said.

Harris said Casey will be greatly missed, pointing out that he is one of the best public administrators in the state and has been an outstanding employee for Hanover County.

“He has taken the lead in a lot of our successes, everything from our financial strategies, to improving our bond rating, to encouraging teamwork and building partnerships and relationships,” Harris said.

Casey’s last day at Hanover County will be Jan. 28.

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