Hit The Ground Running
Campbell Completes First Year Leading Harrisonburg
By LAINE GRIFFIN
Daily News-Record 1/9/19
HARRISONBURG — Eric Campbell has spent a memorable fi rst year as Harrisonburg city manager and says his passion for local government has only grown.
From Petersburg to Portsmouth to Charlotte, N.C., to Dallas, Campbell is no stranger to the world of city governance — he’s been doing it for almost 35 years.
“The biggest thing I like about this job is making a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It’s where you can touch the communities and see how the programs you’ve
helped set in place have positively affected the community.”
The 55-year-old said local government is unique in that a many executive managers move from place to place to get more exposure and responsibility.
Campbell received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hampton University and began down the road to his career working in the state budget office in Richmond for three years.
From there, he worked for Newport News for six years as an administrator before taking a detour to Prince George’s County in Maryland as a budget analyst. From there, he moved to Petersburg to work as the assistant city manager, then headed to Portsmouth as its deputy city manager and circled back to Petersburg to be assistant city manager again.
He worked for nearly seven years as the assistant city manager in Charlotte before moving to Dallas, where he had the same job.
But after years of moving, he said Harrisonburg became the best decision he’s ever made.
“I wanted to get back to a smaller community. I didn’t want another major metropolitan area to work in,” he said. “Harrisonburg has such potential and so much diversity and I want to continue being part of the efforts to grow as a smaller community.”
Campbell, who spends an extensive amount of time with City Council, said “they’ve been really great to work with overall. They have a passion and real commitment to improving the city overall.”
Councilman Richard Baugh, interviewed last month, was on council when the city hired Campbell. He says they got along off the bat.
“He very much had to hit the ground running,” Baugh said, referring to Campbell having to start putting together his first budget for the city after just one council meeting last January. That meeting resulted in council’s vote to build a second Harrisonburg High School, at the time estimated to cost at least $76 million, a contentious issue that continues to reverberate a year later.
Mayor Deanna Reed said Campbell’s always taken the initiative to learn, whether to understand the reason for building a new high school or another project within the city. “Every time I go into his office, I joke him because it’s a mess. It’s just stacked full of reading material,” Reed said during a interview last month. “And he always tells me, ‘I’m reading, I’m learning and catching up.’” Reed said he walked into the fire pit regarding the high school and it didn’t rattle him. “One of my best accomplishments in my two years here was bringing Eric here,” she said.
Baugh said Campbell’s prior experience in local government in Virginia and larger cities, such as Charlotte and Dallas, appealed to council during while interviewing him for the job. But what really stuck out to Baugh was that he could tell Campbell was a Richmond native. “I’m a bit older than he is and we’re not from the same neighborhood, but as a Richmond native myself, we share a lot of perspectives from growing up [there],” he said. “I confess, I still don’t get that thing about being a Laker fan, but no one’s perfect.”
Campbell isn’t only a fan of the L.A. Lakers but a Syracuse University basketball fan, which seems natural given they he attended the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse. Although he never played competitive sports, he always loved to watch them.
“I am a die-hard Cowboys fan, even before I worked in Dallas,” he said. “I was being brainwashed by my older brothers who were fans, so I just naturally become one.”
Campbell is the youngest of eight siblings — five brothers and three sisters.
“I was so far on the tail end that I kind of grew up as the renegade and did things on my own,” he said. “But now I have numerous nieces and nephews and being in Virginia makes it easier for me to visit them in Richmond.”
He says his family has always played role in his life and gave him the foundation he needed to be successful.
But so did his 10th-grade teacher at Armstrong Kennedy High School in Richmond.
James Wright helped pave the path for Campbell.
“He saw more in me than I could see in myself and set me on a positive trajectory with my career,” Campbell said.