By Tony E. Windsor

While attending Laurel High School in her freshman year, Jamie (Tyndall) Smith took advantage of a summer employment opportunity offered through a special grant-funded project and the town of Laurel. Though she had aspirations of becoming a teacher, the job helped her get exposure to the “working world” and make some money at the same time. Smith worked for the town for the next three summers and then graduated from high school in 1995.

She began taking college courses through the University of Delaware’s Georgetown campus in preparation for teaching. In the fall of 1995 then Acting-Town Manager Bonnie Walls contacted Smith and made her aware of a part-time job working with the town. The hours were flexible and would enable her to maintain her college schedule.

Laurel Town Manager Jamie Smith recently celebrated 25 years of service to the town. She also makes it clear that this is just the beginning. Here she is pictured at her desk at Laurel Town Hall. Photo by Tony Windsor

In her new job Smith had administrative assistant duties and worked with Walls in the town manager’s office. The role gave her a crash course in the inner workings of the town’s administrative branch. She attended Mayor and Council Meetings, preparing and taking meeting minutes, drafting ordinances, and at times, when needed, waited on customers who were paying their utility bills. 

Little did Smith realize that this would put her one step closer to a career that she had never anticipated. In 1996, Smith was offered a full time position with the town. That was 25 years ago, and now as town manager, she feels fortunate that her post-high school journey led her to a job where she is at the forefront of looking out for the welfare of the community where she grew up.

“When I started in the part-time position, I did not see myself staying full-time with the town, however, after working with Bonnie and learning the various aspects of municipal government, I wanted to keep learning and expanding my knowledge of how municipal government worked. I wanted to be a part of the town I grew up in and a part of growth and betterment of the town,” she said.

Recently, the Mayor and Town Council recognized Smith for her 25 years of employment and lauded her contributions to the community. Mayor John Shwed presented her with a special commemorative plaque and expressed his appreciation for Smith.

“Jamie Smith is a dedicated, caring leader,” he said. “She has shown remarkable growth as she has advanced through each of her assignments in service to the town. As town manager, she has developed great relationships with governmental officials in Sussex County, the state, and the federal delegation. These relationships have resulted in many financial grants for our community. She has also developed a well-functioning administrative team that delivers outstanding service to our residents, and she partners well with Chief of Police Dan Wright and the men and women of the Laurel Police Department.”

The mayor also alluded to Smith’s leadership during some of the area’s toughest economic conditions in recent history. “Jamie has served during some of America’s toughest economic and socially sensitive years. As a result of her leadership Laurel is now stronger financially and is poised for future wealth generation from new residential and commercial development,” Shwed said. “As Mayor, I am thankful Mayor and Council have her as a partner in administrating the town of Laurel. I encourage all residents to thank her for her 25 years of service whenever they get the chance.”

When Walls left the town to take a job at Bridgeville Town Hall, Smith maintained her job assisting the next three town managers who came to work in Laurel. During this time Smith said she never had an inclination to consider taking on the job of town manager, instead she was content to play a supportive role.

However, her obvious love for the community of Laurel and its citizens and the dedication she demonstrated in her role with the town were visible and it was only a matter of time before she made the transition. It was in 2014 that Smith moved into the role of Laurel’s chief administrator, working in tandem with the Mayor and Council in a leadership and coordinating role with municipal department heads.

As Town Manager, Smith acknowledges that though she was hesitant to take on the job, it has reaped great rewards for her. “The most rewarding thing I feel I have accomplished is working closely with the department heads to grow their departments and improve the services we provide our citizens,” she said. “I have been blessed with 25 years of working with many wonderful people who over the years became more than just co-workers they became friends. The team that I have under me is one of the best teams a town manager could wish for. I am not just their ‘boss’ and they aren’t just ‘my employees’, we are a team, we are coworkers who all want to see Laurel grow. We care about each other, we care about each other’s families, we are a family and that is something that I am very proud of.”

Smith also enjoys seeing the town grow and work its way out of the once dismal economic forecast. “Knowing that I have been a part of seeing Laurel grow and improve has been extremely satisfying,” she said. “We have seen over the last few years an increase in new residential dwellings, dwellings that are being built and sold as owner occupied. I have been part of the expansion of our water and sewer infrastructure, which will bring commercial development and growth to Laurel. Growth is important and a necessity for every town, but it must be smart growth.”

Smith oversees a very ambitious strategic plan for Laurel’s future and is excited to be an intricate part of it. She knows the importance of seeing new opportunities for the town, but also knows it is imperative to preserve the extraordinary historic identity of the community.

“I envision the future of Laurel to be a combination of historic downtown with tourism, and commercial growth along the Route 13 corridor,” she said. “Laurel has annexed over 600 acres of land since 2008 and zero growth has taken place on that land. For a town to be successful, growth has to take place in many areas and many ways. To include residential and commercial, not just in your downtown areas, but along areas such as the Route 13 corridor.”

She also sees Laurel as an extremely desirable destination for tourists. “A town must have something to attract visitors. By attracting visitors, it not only helps our commercial businesses, but it is also a way to get people to purchase homes in our town,” she said. 

Smith said the town is working diligently to get the Ramble Project underway, which includes residential development and home improvements, downtown commercial businesses, a nature-based playground, a kayak launch and provide a walking path to connect Janosik Park to Roger C. Fisher Park.   

“The Broad Creek is one of our greatest benefits,” she said. “It is a beautiful waterway that makes for great fishing, boating and kayaking. In fact, there will be four kayaking tours along Broad Creek scheduled between the summer and fall that is bringing people from various parts of the county and state to our town.” 

As an advocate for the community, Smith feels her job is very specific and easily communicated. “I feel I can best advocate for the town by sharing what a gem our town is and what it can be with smart growth, improvements to our housing stock, and infrastructure,” she said.

Although at first Smith approached the job of town manager with great trepidation and hesitancy, she is confident now that this is a job she would be happy to maintain up until retirement.

“I have enjoyed working for the town, the town has been great to me and has allowed me to provide for my family. I would like to be with the town for another 12 years and if I can give back to the town that has given to me, allowed me to grow in my career, then that is what I want to do,” she said.

Smith loves her job as town manager, but also finds it important to balance this with her most treasured roles as wife and mother. Her husband Greg and she have two children, Damin, 17, a high school senior and Conner, 14, a high school freshman. Both attend Laurel High School.

Mayor Shwed attests to how well Smith is able to balance her professional and personal careers.

“Jamie does a great job balancing family and work,” he said. “You will see her representing the town on weekends and holidays at various public events. She is also very gifted at working with citizens to ensure their concerns get a response. She listens to citizen complaints objectively and works diligently to resolve the issues.”

Councilwoman Robin Fisher-Cornish admires Smith’s commitment to Laurel and its citizens and says it is obvious that for her it is more personal than just a job. “Jamie is our towns ‘Unsung Hero.’ She is a constant, whenever any issue regarding the town of Laurel arises. Be it chairing or the development of committees from the July 4th event to the One Laurel initiatives, from economic to environmental growth or from financial to housing development, Jamie is Laurel’s greatest cheerleader never finding a request too challenging. It has been a great privilege to work with Jamie over these past 25 years. I look forward to seeing the direction she continues to lead to benefit the town of Laurel.”

Likewise, Councilwoman Cheryl Martin sings the praises of Smith and feels the town manager has not wasted one moment of her 25 years of service to the town. “This 25 years of service symbolizes Jamie’s dedication as Laurel’s town manager. She continues to play an essential part in the town of Laurel’s journey to grow. I certainly congratulate her,” she said.

Smith said when she is not tending to the business of the town of Laurel she enjoys “going to the beach, watching the game show network, and attending whatever sport my kids are playing or event they are participating in.”

As she looks back over the past 25 years, and ahead to the future as town manager she sums up her most significant takeaway. “Over the years I have met and worked with some amazing people who truly care about Laurel and they only want to give back,” she said. “The accomplishments that this town has seen, the growth we have seen, and the improvements we have seen, wouldn’t have been possible without everyone working together with a vision and commitment for the betterment of our town.”