Conroy reflects on her time with Albemarle as retirement nears
Colleen Conroy has attended hundreds of Albemarle City Council meetings during her tenure working for the city, but the most recent meeting certainly felt different.
After roughly 20 years as the city’s finance director, Conroy, 67, will retire at the end of the month. Her last day will be Feb. 26.
The finality of it all was what made attending her last council meeting so tough. In preparation, she brought hand wipes, so she could properly sanitize in between shaking hands with each of the council members at the end.
She saved her most touching embrace — a hug — for City Manager Michael Ferris, whom she’s worked with for the majority of her time with the city and calls a dear friend. Conroy attended his wedding and he attended her daughter’s wedding.
Conroy told the council that when she first arrived, Mayor Ronnie Michael was still a major with the Albemarle Police Department.
To put into context just how long she’s been with the city, during her tenure, there have been: three public housing directors, three parks and recreation directors, three planning directors, three human resource directors, four public works directors, five police chiefs, four fire chiefs, five public utility directors and two city managers.
“I was very melancholy by the time I got home” after the meeting, Conroy said in an interview with the Stanly News & Press. “It’s emotional because it’s such a part of my life.”
Originally from Pittsburgh, Conroy arrived in Albemarle in 1988, after her husband took a job with Alcoa. She graduated from Pfeiffer University before going to work for a public accountant. She eventually became accounting manager for the city in 1995 and — aside from a brief one-year stint in Concord — hasn’t left Albemarle. After serving as assistant financial advisor, she became head of the department in 2001.
As finance director, Conroy handles tasks such as working on budget development each year, maintaining the accounting and reporting system, paying financial obligations and providing fiscal management for all city funds.
When it comes to handling the city’s finances, especially the general fund, Conroy has always had a family-oriented approach.
“I look at it like it’s the family money,” she said, “and you don’t spend all the family money, you spend it on what you need.”
One of Conroy’s biggest accomplishments during her tenure has been the department receiving the Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award for the last three years from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. It had never received the award prior to Conroy becoming director.
According to the GFOA, “the Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management.”
While the city was overwhelmingly populated by white men when she first arrived, Conroy’s proud that during her career, the demographics of the staff has diversified, with more women and people of color coming on board.
In the early 2000s, when Conroy was the first woman to head a city department, Michael Ferris included her in social outings the leadership team often made to Charlotte. She appreciates that he took the time to make sure she felt valued and part of the team.
“It was Colleen and the guys,” she said about the events. “And I remember Michael saying one time, ‘You know what, you’re more one of the guys than some of the guys.’ ”
“Colleen is very supportive of the City and her peers,” Ferris said in an email to the SNAP. “She is a valuable part of our Leadership Team and will always provide her thoughts and opinions, but give her support when it is time to act. I also really value and appreciate her support of me throughout my career and I have really enjoyed working with her.”
The city has not named Conroy’s successor, though she thinks Jacob Weavil, the assistant finance director, would be a good choice.
Conroy has several plans once she retires.
She wants to travel (once the pandemic ends) and see family, especially her son who lives in Charlotte and her daughter who lives in England, along with her five grandchildren.
An avid fan of the arts, she is excited about painting and wants to get more involved with the Uwharrie Players. She also wants to volunteer with nonprofits in the area.
For Conroy, the thing she will miss most are the people that she’s grown accustomed to seeing on a daily basis.
“Everybody here cares about their fellow employees, it’s like a family,” Conroy said, tearing up as she spoke. “It’s a wonderful place to work and we have good, caring people.”
She expressed similar sentiments in her final remarks before Council.
“I love all of you and I appreciate the opportunities that you’ve given me,” Conroy said.
As she was leaving, every person in the room gave her a standing ovation.