New Bern development executive tapped to lead Macon-Bibb P&Z


Jeffrey Ruggieri

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s search for a new leader as well as a quest to update its governing codes and policies led them to choose an experienced planner and award-winning code writer to lead the organization.

During a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon, commissioners voted to offer Jeffrey C. Ruggieri the executive direction position being vacated by the retirement of Jim Thomas.

At the conclusion of the unanimous vote, P&Z chairwoman Jeane Easom called Ruggieri to offer him the job.

“I’ll gladly accept,” Ruggieri said.

When Easom asked when he could start, he replied: “I’m moving down this weekend and I can start Monday.”

Thomas, who was scheduled to retire at the end of 2021, has agreed to stay on through March to help with the transition.

“Jeff is a very personable young man,” Easom said before adjourning the meeting.

Commissioners spent the past few months conducting the search and interviewing candidates.

P&Z Commissioner Gary Bechtel praised the process and demeanor of the commissioners during the search: “We were very thorough,” Bechtel said. “Id like to thank this commission for the amount of work, effort, time and good natured way they approached this. We learned a lot about each other.”

Ruggieri currently serves as the first director of development services for the City of New Bern, N.C., where he built up the new department and created the New Bern Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“Leading a new department, I faced many entrenched challenges and led the way in changing the perception of the department for the better,” Ruggieri said in his cover letter to the search firm. “I quickly resolved production and negative perception issues and have proven myself an approachable, fair and dependable leader.”

P&Z commissioners have repeatedly expressed concerns about the current zoning codes that restrict and govern their decisions. The new executive director will be instrumental in making changes, which is something Ruggieri appears ready for.

His resume notes he led the modernization and re-writing of the Land Development Code for New Bern, a 311-year-old city with a population of about 31,000 people that’s part of a larger metropolitan region with a population of about 140,000, according to the 2020 Census. New Bern has four historic districts in the inner banks near the central coast of North Carolina and served as the Tar Heel state’s first capital before the Revolutionary War.

“My passion is serving, innovating, and creating. Accepting challenges is the foundation of my life experiences and something I do with great confidence and great success. You will find me a totally committed individual who takes pride in being direct, respectful, and collaborative in all I do,” Ruggieri said in the letter.

Ruggieri, a native of Derry, N.H. who has lived in eastern North Carolina for about 10 years, brings 22 years of experience to the position, including more than 15 years of supervising others and managing budgets up to $8 million.

His application for the post also states he has “extensive experience in leading organizations and streamlining processes that integrate land development, inspections, code enforcement, preservation, and economic development.”

Ruggieri forged a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build new homes by leveraging city assets. He has authored award-winning long-range and redevelopment plans while navigating land development regulations and historic district standards.

While working as the director of Building and Growth Management for Charlotte County, Fla., Ruggieri won the the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Award for public engagement in 2011. The Florida Planning and Zoning Association also presented him with the Outstanding Long Range Planning Award for the Smart Charlotte 2050 Comprehensive plan.

He also led a $2.3 million grant-funded project to turn vacant city warehouses into a “state-of-the-art Workforce Development Center in partnership with Craven County Community College.”

Ruggieri sped up development plan review times and initiated New Bern’s first electronic permitting software program that enables applicants to remotely access forms for building permits and inspections.

In 1999, he earned a Master of City Planning degree from Georgia Tech where his studies emphasized environmental planning. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in Marine Affairs in 1996.

On Jan. 18, Macon-Bibb P&Z released the names of four finalists for the position: Ruggieri, Charles L. Finkley Jr., Corey A. Hull and Sungman Kim. Commissioners were required by their bylaws to wait two weeks before offering the position to one of them.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.