City manager aims to ‘streamline’ PTC functions

Jim Pennington, Peachtree City's new city manager. Photo/John Munford.

When Peachtree City Manager Jim Pennington visited the city for his first and second interviews, he was struck by its beauty.

So much so, in fact, that on the way home from his second trip, his wife Dee noticed he was nervous.

Pennington said it was all because he really wanted the job.

“The first time I went back going ‘oh, my gosh, what an opportunity this would be,’” Pennington said in an interview last week. “I’ve been in some very nice cities ... but this is something just special.”

Pennington and his wife are still getting their new home settled, and they are also looking for a church home, too. But he has hit the ground running with the City Council, sparking a reorganization of city staff and also proposing a budget that drew no criticism from council on its first look.

“I believe in doing things right the first time,” Pennington said about the budget, noting that every department helped shape the budget to its final outcome in the form of his recommendation. “... I asked staff to ‘give me your best.’ I learned that from my boss early on in my career to do it right the first time.”

The city is on a solid foundation with its budget because the city “is not overdoing it,” Pennington said.

Budgeting for future years is trickier if only because of the unpredictability of the economy, he added.

“Trying to do a trend analysis today, you’ll pull your hair out,” Pennington said.

The city’s budget will be crucial in years to come as the property tax revenues will stagnate not just due to the struggling economy but also due to the city nearing its full build-out, Pennington said. That, however, could change if a large annexation approved by the council several years ago is held up by the Georgia Supreme Court. As of now there is no way to tell how the court will rule, Pennington said.

In the meantime, the city’s sweeping reorganization is designed to encourage more communication between departments on a variety of issues. The tactic is called “matrix management” getting individuals from different areas to come together to solve a specific problem, Pennington said.

“I will be the first to tell you our number one asset we have in our community is the staff, the human resources,” Pennington said. “It also means we are well trained and well equipped and they have to have high expectations and we have to have high expectations for them to be a part of this team and to be able to have very close communications.”

The reorganization is really a “streamlining” of staff efforts in a bid to get everyone working towards the city’s major long-term goals.

Pennington acknowledged that those goals can shift from council to council, but he says city staff has to be ready to react to those changes.

“We’ve got to make sure our staff is all focused on the same set of issues, and providing the best doggone service that we can possibly provide,” Pennington said. “... It’s about providing the best quality service that we can for our citizens. Not for ourselves: we’ve got to remember the focus is not on us, it’s the citizens.”

In serving as a “new set of eyes and ears,” Pennington says he hopes to improve the city through the streamlining process.

“Once you’re here any period of time or longer in an organization, it’s a lot harder to look at,” Pennington said. “You always have to look at it objectively but that may be a little bit more difficult. ... I am preaching that this change is inevitable, the only constant that we have to deal with.”

Beyond the reorganization of city staff and the budget issues is the matter of improving the city’s infrastructure. It didn’t take long for Pennington to identify some issues that needed to be addressed in that arena, he said.

“On my first day I saw some things that bothered me and I went back, at that time I was in my apartment living by myself, I sat here and said, ‘Did I see what I thought I saw?’” Pennington said.

“... The pictures you’ve seen on the Internet of a beautiful city. When you look at them real close, and that’s my problem I’ve been a city manager for so long I start looking at things you probably wouldn’t. ... It made me very concerned because our facilities didn’t match what the picture showed.”

And the effort will address not just city buildings but also recreation areas including ballfields and tennis courts, he added.

Pennington said he has been glad to find out recently how much city residents care about recreation, which is part of makes the city what it is.

“We have the Kedron facility and a couple of facilities that are just outstanding,” Pennington said. Then he pointed to the Glenloch recreation building “that’s just sitting over there. Where’s our programming? What are we doing to do with it? We’ve got a whole building there. How are we going to use it? What are we going to do with it?”

While Pennington and his staff will be wrestling with all these issues, when he’s off duty he cherishes time spent with Dee, who is looking for a teaching position. She abandoned her job in South Carolina to join Pennington here, having made a name for herself in education circles as a curriculum coordinator and also once being named teacher of the year in her school.

Pennington said that church life is very important to them but beyond that he is not much of a socialite.

“I am pretty much a family person and I like being with my wife, and being at home,” Pennington said.

PTClurker
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Pennington gets it

Yes. Pennington seems like one of those guys who "gets it".

It's refreshing to see someone new who's not afraid to work with council on reorganizing/streamlining city functions and making the tough head cuts, as unfortunate of a reality they are. This is someone who seems to see the big picture and conveys the right mentality on both budget and people.

To those folks fixated on the negativity of the recent PTC re-org:
Management teaches you that indeed your number one resource is people (or as Mr. Pennington states, "our number one asset we have in our community is the staff, the human resources"). You can live and breath by that mantra, and rightfully so, but that does not exempt a manager from the duty (or downright obligation) to make the tough cuts when the big picture demands it. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Glad to see we have a city manager who can remain above the emotional fray.

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