PTC’s McMullen looks back

CUTLINE: Bernard McMullen (L), Peachtree City’s retiring city manager, enjoys a momento presented by Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch at a reception in his honor at City Hall. Photo/John Munford.

As he wound down his tenure as city manager, Bernie McMullen said he is “looking forward to enjoying the city again.” His last official day is Dec. 31.

As part of his separation package, McMullen will be paid through the end of April 2011.

“I’m leaving a happy person,” McMullen said, noting his good fortune to have not only served as city manager, but the chance to make this his final job before retirement.

“It’s a neat little town, and again I think that it’s a great place to raise a family,” McMullen said. “We have our challenges just like anywhere else, but there are very few other places that have the recreation and the ability to just have fun.”

McMullen said one of the events he particularly enjoys each year is the annual Fourth of July parade and fireworks.

“It’s just a really enjoyful time and I’m happy that we’ve been able to, even though the city has grown, that we’ve been able to maintain that small-town attitude, and I think that’s probably the time it’s most prevalent here, over the Fourth of July. It’s Smalltown, U.S.A.”

McMullen was a city resident for a number of years before he was hired in May 2003 to replace long-time City Manager Jim Basinger.

While his commute has been incredibly short, there have been a number of challenges through the years in the job, McMullen said.

The first big task was dealing with the tenuous situation involving the Development Authority of Peachtree City and the lawsuits over unpaid loans to build and expand the city’s tennis center, then operated by DAPC. Ultimately the city settled the lawsuit and used bonds to pay off the debt.

Another major issue was last year when the city went through a downsizing to survive the economic downturn, and McMullen had to tell employees their services were no longer needed.

“One of the people who had to be laid off was someone I was a friend with for a number of years before I took this job,” McMullen said. “And you know I couldn’t single out that person in making those decisions. So it was very difficult to stand in front of those people and say that we’re going to be doing business in a different way which was going to result in a majority of those folks losing their livelihood.”

Other challenges included the repairs to the police station to prevent moisture infiltration that lead to mold issues and also the long drawn-out process of navigating through a federal grant to finally complete the paths connecting to the cart path bridge spanning the CSX railroad tracks along Ga. Highway 54 West in Peachtree City.

“Hopefully with the federal government going toward a more conservative government, there will be time to realize the bureaucracy we have created within our government structures,” McMullen said. “It’s expensive and in my mind it’s wasteful in terms of a resource and it needs to be addressed.”

The problem with the 10-foot wide bridge paths is they had to meet all the same pre-construction guidelines as a regular road, McMullen said.

One of the sustaining positives of the city, McMullen said, has been the fact that very qualified, very talented people continue to step up to volunteer to make it a better place, ranging from the youth sports leagues to the many volunteer boards and commissions that help with city operations, McMullen said.

“We have retired presidents of companies, people who have spent an extended amount of time in state government, retired airline pilots, and people who are active in terms of running businesses,” McMullen said.

“I don’t know of many other places where you can have that level of volunteers. ... We could never afford to replace what those volunteers do.”

McMullen is also proud of what the city has been able to accomplish during his tenure in terms of increasing the staffing at the fire department from 12 people per shift to 19. It took about six months of numerous meetings with fire department staff to figure out the way forward, but the net result is that volunteer participation is also now up, with an average of a little over three volunteers participating on each shift, McMullen said.

And while many think the increase in personnel was needed for fire response, the real truth is they are needed more to handle EMS calls, which account for about 75 percent of the service provided by the fire department, McMullen said.

The ultimate goal has been to get four fire staffers on the scene of calls such as heart attacks, serious falls and other emergencies, McMullen said.

“And in my mind, it has made a difference,” he said.

McMullen said the city has always been “lean” in terms of the number of employees compared to other cities. Much of that is due to cross-training and people holding down more than the equivalent of just one job, McMullen said.

McMullen’s greatest hope for maintaining the city’s quality of employees is to maintain the city’s better than average benefits. He realizes that if the economic struggles continue, there will be more pressure to reduce the city’s benefits to save costs.

The city has evaluated its personnel with other cities, department by department, and “in probably almost all cases we’re much leaner.”

Holding down such a high-profile job is not very easy given the political nature of the position. McMullen has remained successful, however, by sticking to the facts and presenting them to council to make its best decision.

As for his retirement plans, McMullen is content to spend some more time on his bicycle, enjoying the path system and keeping an eye out for the curve where he wiped out a few years back, breaking a few ribs, and tickling a few more ribs at City Hall for months afterward as the jokes came at his expense.

The spill hasn’t stopped McMullen from cycling, as he participates in the annual Tour de Cure every year.

In addition to doing more traveling with his wife Cathy, McMullen said he is looking forward to continuing to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes with former Mayor Harold Logsdon. McMullen said he has “always enjoyed” that type of work.

“My plans are to do what I want to do, and other than my wife, not have any more bosses,” McMullen said.