Wes Smith is the Assistant City Manager for Customer Service in Albany.
With 27 years of municipal government under his belt, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith has seen a lot during his tenure in Albany. He’s handled flood recovery, political scandals and has managed to balance a home life that includes a wife and four children.
He talks about his work, his hobbies and his interesting desire to have lunch with both Jesus and Thomas Jefferson with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner in this week’s On the Job feature.
Q. What was your first job?
A. The first time I ever worked, I was an 11th-grader and I spent a summer at Hardees flipping burgers. Actually it was a lot of fun. I had several friends that worked there with me, and I learned a whole lot.
NAME: Wes Smith
TITLE: Assistant City Manager for Customer Service
FAMILY: Married with four children.
Q. What did you buy with your first paycheck?
A. Well, I was a big hunter so I bought a new rifle.
Q. Do you have a favorite work-related gadget?
A. I’m not a real gadget guy. I mean, yes, I function regularly with the telephone, email, texting, the computer; I do what I need to do. But I don’t find any great enjoyment in using the electronics of the day. In fact, I often find that they distract, particularly emails. I must get 100 or 150 emails a day, so I spend a lot of time, I think unproductively, trying to deal with that. So there’s good and bad.
Q. When dealing with department heads, what is your guiding principle or philosophy?
A. I think my No. 1 job is to make them better. I think all of them have the capacity they need to carry out the jobs that they need to do, but often they’ll run into things where they need additional perspective or a little muscle or they may need a connection that I may have. So I strive very hard to make them better. I think by doing that it helps the organization be better.
Q. In your mind, what is the most important goal for the city of Albany?
A. Getting away from the municipality but staying in the community, we need to do a better job raising our children and educating them. Of course, we have to create new opportunities, but I think somehow we’ve lost some of that fiber. I’ve had my kids come into the public school system. My oldest did get to high school in the private system, but my youngest two won’t and it’s just kind of hard being a parent out there and working full-time. We’ve got to get back to the basics. Help them be what they need to be to be good adults later. Build some moral fiber to them, because right now I don’t think we’re doing a great job as a society and in our community.
Q.What do you emphasize to employees in terms of how they deal with the public?
A. I want my customers to walk away feeling like it was reasonably easy to work with us and feeling like they got what they needed or, if they didn’t get what they wanted, that they were treated professionally and respectfully. I don’t mind saying “no” if I have to, but we want to treat all of our customers respectfully and for them to feel like their experience was positive.
Q. If you could have lunch with any famous person, living or dead, real of imagined, who would it be ?
A. I’ll give you two answers because obviously if I could go have lunch with Jesus I would. I mean, what can I say? But I always thought Thomas Jefferson would be really interesting because of his participation in the building of the country.
Q. What do you like to do outside of work?
A. I like fishing with my kids. Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of recreational time, but that is one thing my two youngest boys like to do. You know I have older kids that are basically away — I have one that’s graduated college and another that is finishing up college — so the boys, who are 13 and 10, and I go to various ponds as often as possible and we go down to the ocean, usually a couple of times a year and surf fish.
Q. If you’re stranded on an island and could have only three items, what would they be?
A. Well, I know reading materials, without a doubt, because I like to read, but I rarely have the leisure time to do so. Gosh, I’d want to be able to eat, so maybe a refrigerator that is continuously refilling and a nice pillow.
Q. So far, what are you most proud of when it comes to your career?
A. The one thing I’m probably most proud of in the nine years I spent in the engineering department, we did some flood recovery work but mostly SPLOST work. During that period, I was a party to or a direct manager to more than $100 million worth of construction within this community, and that’s a pretty good number. I feel like I have participated in improvements across the community. Virtually every mile I go, I can see something I had a hand in, and I really am proud of that.
Q. What type of things do you like to read?
A. I do read a lot of newspapers. Being in customer service and I do a lot of the media work for the city, so every day the first thing I do is check the newspaper and other media for what might have happened overnight. During the day, midday typically, I’ll look back again to see if there is any breaking news or something like that to make sure the manager is aware of it, or if something comes up, we need to make sure the commission is aware of, and that is part of my job. I like to read fiction, and frankly one of the things I’ve never done but always have wanted to is to read my wife’s Stephen King collection. She has them all in hardback, and I would love to read them because I know how much she’s enjoyed them.
Q. Do you have a quote or maybe a role model that has helped you in your professional life?
A. Well, I’ll talk more about my profession. When I was in college, I had a mentor who had had a lot of experience in the real world before coming into the academic world, and he used to beat into us this statement that the control of the flow of information is the greatest power of a public administrator. When Al Lott was here, he felt a lot like I did, and it helped me to develop even stronger beliefs in how to deal with the press and how to deal with the public because I like the transparency. I like open government.
Q. When it comes to future retirement, how do you see that playing out?
A. My wife and I and the family have always loved the beach, so that will somehow incorporate itself into that timeframe. My wife and I have also had this very strong philosophy that since we had little to no help with our children, we want to be there for our kids when they have kids. I think that probably means as much to both of us as anything. So, on the beach with the grandkids sounds like a pretty good gig to me.