Hanover County Administrator Cecil “Rhu” Harris Jr. plans to retire in May after 15 years at the county’s helm.
“It has been a blessing to have the opportunity and privilege to work with so many outstanding members of the Board of Supervisors, county staff and citizens,” Harris said in a release. “Hanoverians have much to be proud of, and I appreciate being a small part of this outstanding team.”
In an email Thursday, Harris, 61, said he wants to spend more time with his family, particularly his three grandchildren.
He was first hired by the county in 1984 as a member of Hanover’s Finance Department. He was promoted to finance director three years later. In 2004, the Board of Supervisors tapped him to replace Richard Johnson as chief executive upon Johnson’s retirement.
“I truly appreciate the opportunities given me while working here and the incredible friendships I have made over my career,” Harris said.
County leaders on Thursday described Harris as a dedicated and professional leader, who has steered Hanover well through moderate, steady growth.
“I really just can’t say enough nice things about him,” said Supervisor Faye Prichard. “He’s a man who works a lot and deserves time with his family and beautiful grandchildren and wife.”
“I’ve got mixed feelings because he’s been a trouper for us,” said Supervisor Bucky Stanley, who was first elected to the board around the same time Harris came to work in Hanover 35 years ago.
In the time since then, Hanover’s population has doubled from about 50,000 people to a little over 100,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Hanover officials often speak of managing growth so that it remains a suburban and rural community even as more high-density, urban-like development has started to take hold in parts of neighboring Henrico County.
In his 15 years at the top, Harris and the county’s decision-makers have taken a measured approach to population growth. In 2004, Hanover served as home to about 95,803; today that number is 106,891.
As of July 1, his total annual compensation — including a vehicle allowance, health benefits and deferred compensation — is $283,495, according to county spokesman Tom Harris (no relation).
The county’s eastern corridor — those areas east of Interstate 95, including around U.S. 301 and U.S. 360 — have seen the largest population growth under his leadership, though some development is beginning to extend westward from U.S. Route 1.
“I think our ability to maintain a steady growth in population and business all the while keeping 80% of our county rural is a tremendous accomplishment,” Harris said. “Doing this in a planned way has allowed us to enhance public services and improve the county financial condition. It sets us up for continued success in the future.”
Stanley said that the desire to maintain the county’s rural character has made economic development an important element in making sure schools and public safety facilities are well staffed and in good condition.
“Rhu Harris has been a friend to Hanover County Public Schools throughout his tenure, and I am proud to call him a personal friend as well,” said Hanover Schools Superintendent Michael Gill. “I have admired his dedication and professionalism in all facets of his role. There is no one that is a more tireless advocate for Hanover County than Rhu. He truly has a servant’s heart.”
He said Harris has succeeded in luring economic development projects along commercial corridors, such as the 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store off I-95 about a decade ago.
Harris’s tenure saw Hanover attain a coveted AAA bond rating from all three of the country’s bond-rating agencies in 2010.
Stanley said he believes the county is in a good position financially today because of Harris’ leadership.
“I’ve been there since day one with him,” he said. “I knew the promise was there.”
Harris will continue working for the county until May 15, according to a release, which means he will be involved in developing the county budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020.
Harris’ imminent departure follows that of former County Attorney Sterling Rives, who retired in February after working in county government for 31 years.
Board of Supervisors Chairman W. Canova Peterson said Harris’ retirement will be a loss for Hanover, but that the county is in a strong position.
“I think Hanover has been on a solid upward track for a longtime. I don’t see that changing,” he said. “I anticipate that the opening for county administrator will draw the attention of a lot of excellent talent for us to speak with. I expect us to end up with another top-notch county administrator.”