Thirteen men and women were recognized this month for exemplary service to Gaston County.

The 2017 Gaston County Employee of the Year Awards were presented during a lunchtime ceremony on Friday in the Pendleton Community Room of the Gaston County Police Department. The annual distinctions are designed to honor employees who have demonstrated outstanding performance above and beyond their basic job descriptions.

An Employee Recognition Committee receives nominations from county workers each year. One employee is also cited for special recognition by the Gaston County manager.

In addition to nine men and women being cited for their great work, three others were celebrated for demonstrating courageous service and teamwork. All of the employees will be recognized again during the March 13 meeting of the Gaston County Board of Commissioners.

Here are summaries of each employee:

Beth Griffiths – purchasing manager

A new challenge for county employees in 2017 was a first phase of converting to a new software program. Someone was needed to provide training, and Griffiths was there to lead the way. She gained expertise, created teaching materials, and became the lead trainer.

Other employees came to depend on Griffiths’ patience and willingness to share her expertise. She is known to play everything strictly by the book, but is admired for the way she applies those rules to everyone equally, regardless of department or position.

Eric Knupp – police sergeant

Knupp has served in many roles with the county police, including recently completing nearly 17 years on the Emergency Response Team. Thanks to his inspired work ethic, leadership and quality performance, his officers have responded with high productivity and clearance rates.

Knupp’s most memorable moment in 2017 occurred when a passer-by asked for help with a church employee who was not breathing. Knupp performed several rounds of CPR and delivered two shocks from a defibrillator until paramedics arrived on scene. The heart surgeon later said Knupp’s actions were critical to the survival of the gentleman who has made a full recovery.

Nikki Miles – Child Protective Services family assessor

Miles works to ensure her clients’ needs are being met on a daily basis. She is always willing to help out her teammates even when swamped with cases of her own.

But co-workers say even that doesn’t describe what Miles brings to county residents. One of her nominations emphasized, “Nikki has an ease when talking to clients and a way of breaking down barriers that is indescribable. She builds a strong rapport with every client that she works with to the point that clients often ask for Nikki as their social worker if another case comes in on their family. She exemplifies everything I strive to be as a social worker.”

Dottie Myers – administrative assistant to the director of Health and Human Services

Myers has distinguished herself through exceptional performance and has displayed how critical a role her position can be for her organization.

Her kindness and caring service to members of the community is a perfect match for the DHHS mission. She volunteers for Meals On Wheels, makes deliveries to The Shelter, and routinely volunteers to sit with children who are at medical facilities in DHHS custody.

Andrew Pierce – Public Library circulation services manager

Through Pierce’s hard-work, energetic personality, and dedication to serving the community, he has quickly advanced from part time to becoming the head of circulation services, which is the busiest service point in the library system. He also recently earned his master’s degree in library science.

In circulation services, Pierce is on the front lines, but he is also heavily involved in programming. He played a big role in the Without Walls virtual library card partnership with Gaston County Schools, which allows every student to access digital services offered by the library.

Ralph Roberts – Information Technology database administrator

Roberts’ colleagues say his ideals epitomize the qualities that the county wants its IT professionals to have.

One is being a problem solver. One of Roberts’ nominations said, “worked with a sense of urgency,” and, “stepped up to the plate when we were down an analyst position.”

Another is patience, through taking the time to understand problems and then explain things to use in terms that others understand.

A third is communication, which pertains to the ability to explain things to the average employee and keeping the lines of communication open with progress updates.

Brian Rogers – Parks and Recreation athletic facility coordinator

Coordination between Parks and Recreation and Travel and Tourism is critical to Gaston County’s success. And colleagues say Rogers was a big part of a recent success story as a result of hosting a statewide soccer tournament.

Rogers sought out his role on the board of directors on the state’s athletics committee with the intention of bringing events to Gaston County that affect hotel stays, and that was realized with Gaston hosting the SWAC Soccer Tournament. According to Travel and Tourism, the 2017 event helped bring increases of more than 200 hotel stays each day that weekend compared with the previous year. Several hotels reported they had teams staying with them.

Angela Stacks – deputy county clerk

Over the past few years, Stacks has stayed busy. She twice trained a new deputy clerk and mastered three new software programs, while maintaining several old ones as backup, almost doubling her already demanding, deadline-driven workload.

Stacks’ toughest task was implementing new software to manage appointments to commission advisory boards. She spent countless hours verifying data that was shifted from the antiquated system and painstakingly entered historical appointment data into the new system. This key component of the new system will save staff time and improve the accessibility of appointment information for the county commission, advisory board members, staff, and local residents.

Wendy Westmoreland – 911 Telecommunications lead trainer

A 911 call center can have a challenging work environment, and the trust Westmoreland has earned from her co-workers is a testament to her leadership.

Her co-workers rely on her expertise, her calm demeanor in stressful situations, and her uncanny knowledge of where everything in Gaston County is.

Her nomination said, “There are numerous examples of situations where Wendy has taken charge. She directed dispatchers to tasks that got the field units the personnel they needed, and got the quickest response to the citizens in need of help.”

Danny Yarborough – master plumber

Yarborough is one of those county employees who touches every department. From parks and recreation, to the library, to the jail, almost every department has a story about how he helped them out of a jam or how he came in to fix one problem and took the initiative to solve several more.

One of the things colleagues appreciate about Yarborough is that he answers his cell phone for urgent plumbing issues, despite not technically being on call and regardless of the time of day. He has even been known to come in from vacation in an emergency. This saves the county money, preventing it from having to call an outside plumber.

Yarborough also led a project switching over all county toilets to a flush system with more power and less water usage, saving more taxpayer dollars.

Gregory Randall – Sheriff’s Office deputy in the county jail

On Oct 1, 2017, Randall was conducting a round in C block of the Gaston County Jail. As he entered the block, he heard an unfamiliar sound.

Randall soon found an unresponsive inmate who was breathing abnormally. He moved the inmate from his position and laid him on the floor while calling for medical assistance. Medical staff arrived and transported the inmate to a place where Narcan was administered. Officials later determined that the inmate had used heroin and Xanax received from a fellow inmate who had been booked earlier that day.

If not for Randall’s vigilance and swift action, officials say the inmate likely would not have lived. While Randall received the Courageous Service Award for his action, his colleagues say it just as easily could have been for caring service.

Gina Thompson – Public Health administrative support specialist

Ralph Roberts – Information Technology database administrator

After the State Division of Medical Assistance changed its rules on how Medicaid and non-Medicaid charges were to be reported for the 2013 fiscal year, Gaston County was penalized with a huge payback of approximately $1.8 million in Medicaid patient fees from the Medicaid cost settlement audit that year. Fortunately, the county was allowed to revise the patient fee charge report so that certain items could be removed to bring down the payback amount.

Thompson worked for several weeks with the charge report, digging through thousands of records and identifying charges that could be removed. It was work that was very detailed, tedious, and time-consuming.

Roberts was brought in to assist from an IT perspective, as they teamed up to look for needles in about 70,000 haystacks. He created a query to aid in identifying the thousands of duplicate records between the Medicaid and non-Medicaid payers.

The key to success was the two-person team working cooperatively and communicating effectively throughout the project. Once the work was complete, the removed charges reduced the payback amount by $1.2 million, essentially saving Gaston County from paying all of that money back to the state.

As a result, Thompson and Roberts were presented with the Teamwork Award.

Dr. Darryl Pearson – head physician in Maternity Services

Maternity Services delivers the majority of newborns for Gaston County, and Pearson – who has worked for Gaston County since 1989 – is the head physician there. He is the 2017 recipient of the County Manager’s Award.

Pearson provides the compassionate and effective leadership needed to serve this high-risk group of women. He also consistently goes above and beyond in fulfilling this great responsibility and is considered a “walking encyclopedia” in the field of high-risk pregnancy and obstetrics.

With a powerful commitment to public service, Pearson has continued to work for Gaston County despite many challenges. He willingly remains on-call after his shift and is available for phone consultations even when he is not on-call.

Pearson is a highly talented professional that provides consistent leadership and serves as a mentor for other professionals including the certified nurse midwives that work with him. In addition, he advocates for staff and takes the time to be certain that patients are getting the very best care possible.

Despite his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and the demands of his position, colleagues say he does not preach and is able to relate well to people at all stations in life. He is well-respected and loved by both his staff and patients. One of the greatest testimonies to his long tenure is that there are at least five documented instances in which he has participated in the care of three generations in the same family.

Pearson has been hailed as an encourager and a teacher. His efforts have promoted the professional development of many people over the years, and he has been a recipient of the Physicians Recognized by Nurses award. Co-workers describe him as a highly engaged problem-solver who is always willing to consider new ideas while providing steady leadership.