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I see the Mayor is getting out his signs again this year. This is a welcome sight because he deserves another term for...

After two decades, city attorney transitions out

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Greenville city attorney David Holec is retiring in November after serving more than 20 years with the city. In this 2015 photograph he goes through various options for the potential changing of council member terms. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)

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Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Another of the city of Greenville's top administrators is stepping down at year's end.

Longtime City Attorney David A. Holec announced Monday he is retiring effective Nov. 1.

"After 37 years in municipal law, nearly 20 years here, it felt like it was the appropriate time. There's no other issues out there," Holec said. "I'm 62 years old."

He gave a six-month notice so the council will have the time to find a well-qualified person. Also, the council is still in the process of replacing City Manager Barbara Lipscomb, who is retiring in August. Holec will have a few months to share his institutional knowledge with the new manager before he leaves, he said.

Holec has served under four city managers, four mayors and multiple incarnations of the City Council.

“Dave has been a consummate professional, always seeking ways to assist the city while keeping us out of legal trouble," Lipscomb said.

"He doesn't go one side or the other. He'll tell you the facts, give you legal advice and that's what you want in an attorney. He's a class act and top-notch," said Assistant City Manager Merrill Floyd, who postponed his planned retirement last year to assist with hurricane recovery efforts.

“He is highly respected across the board for his professionalism and his compassion," said Mayor Allen Thomas. "The City of Greenville has been so fortunate to have him as legal counsel and a standard bearer."

There are differing viewpoints and perspectives on the City Council, Thomas said, but its members all hold Holec in high regard for his integrity.

Holec is among the longest serving department heads and top administrators in the city. Only Director of Financial Services Benita Demery, Director of Information Technology Rex Wilder and Floyd have served longer, joining the city in the late 1980s.

Holec plans to travel, do a little more reading and volunteer as a tutor once he retires. Greenville will remain his home.

Holec grew up in Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He decided to attend Wake Forest University School of Law because he wanted to get away from harsh Midwestern winters. He met the then-dean of the law school through a college professor and decided to apply.

He went to work for the city of Lumberton immediately out of law school and stayed there 16 years before joining the city of Greenville in 1997.

He's sure some were surprised by his decision because Wake Forest only offered one course in municipal law and he didn't take it. However, he took the job because he saw it as a great opportunity to pursue a wide range of legal subjects. He stayed because the challenges were enjoyable.

"It's the many, varied issues that are encountered and the impact which the city and its services have on citizens that have made it particularly rewarding," Holec said.

Holec arrived in Greenville as the community was transitioning from a hub for tobacco and agribusiness to a regional center for medicine, education and retail development.

A city operates as a municipal corporation so the city attorney is, in effect, a corporate attorney, Holec said.

"I see myself as a team player with management in implementing city council policies and a facilitator in assisting all departments in being about to perform and effectively deliver services to the citizens," he said.

A city attorney has multiple responsibilities. Holec drafts ordinances and resolutions for the council, writes legal documents and contracts, and offers immediate legal advice during council meetings and those of other city boards and commissions. Holec supervises an assistant attorney whose primary focus is the police department, and he supervises litigation matters handled by outside counsel.

"His knowledge of not only local, but state law and how the two intersect is truly amazing," Flood said. "He's a wealth of knowledge whenever it comes to municipal government framework and how to interpret and apply the laws affecting local government. His knowledge can't be questioned over that."

Advising the council during the last 20 years of growth has been a welcome challenge, Holec said.

He's been involved in negotiating numerous public-private partnerships such as the development of the Greenville Convention Center with the owners of the Hilton Greenville and Pitt County government.

The Five Points Plaza project required negotiations with Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church for a land swap, he said.

"We have just experienced great growth and growth, important additions to the public facilities offered to citizens," Holec said.

Expanding sewer service to areas southwest of Greenville brought about commercial and residential growth that eventually expanded the tax base of the city, Flood said. Striking an agreement to provide water service and wastewater treatment to the town of Bethel opened areas north of the city to commercial development.

"Dave had to become intimately involved in the state law and enabling legislation that allowed us to extend to Bethel and how to work with state, county and Bethel and potentially other jurisdictions to bring that deal together," Flood said.

Holec also oversaw council redistrictings in the late 1990s and following the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census.

"That's always an interesting challenge, to have the districts equally proportioned while retaining minority voter participation levels and accommodate political concerns," he said, such as keeping neighborhoods intact.

The greatest challenges faced by the city were Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and October's Hurricane Matthew.

Beyond helping officials determine the legal prerequisites for declaring curfews and ordering evacuations, Holec helped negotiate the myriad of state and federal agreements needed for property buyouts and other recovery programs, Flood said.

"There's no question the (Floyd) buyout program was successful; the properties that had the potential to flood (during Matthew) were no longer there," Holec said.

After Holec announced his resignation, the City Council directed the human resources department to begin the recruitment process for a new city attorney. The council is responsible for filling the position.

Flood said he wouldn't presume to tell the council who they should select, but someone with Holec's professionalism and demeanor would ably serve the city.

"Dave has an even keel, very calm approach to issues that can be pretty exciting and have a lot of controversy. ... He doesn't let emotion get in the way," Flood said. "He is really able to keep his cool under a lot of pressure."

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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