“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.”
— Roy T. Bennett,
“The Light in the Heart”
DAWSON — Starting an article with an inspirational ditty is not usual. However, sometimes you meet someone who has such a zest for what they are doing it inspires you and you want to pass that good feeling on.
Talking with new Dawson City Manager Tracy Hester, it did not take long to realize this was someone who really enjoyed what he was doing, regardless of how daunting that role might currently be.
To say that Hester is facing a challenge in his new position would be an understatement. However, as he describes the challenge ahead for himself and the city, it’s easy to tell he relishes the task ahead.
Hester brings a wealth of experience to the challenge. He worked 24 years with the city of Albany before retiring and stepping into a “temporary” management position in Perry that turned into a three-year tour of duty there.
“I was approached about coming to Dawson and addressing the issues here; I’m happy I did,” Hester said. “The city of Dawson has got a lot of problems. It’s been mismanaged. It’s been neglected. All the terrible words you can think of. But we’re gonna make a difference.”
Hester speaks frankly about his first month in office.
“I told folks I knew it was bad,” he said. “But people here didn’t really know how bad. This desk was covered. The floor in the former manager’s office had a path through mounds of files dating back to the ’70s and ’80s. When I asked about city funds and T-SPLOST accounts, nobody knew.”
He acknowledged that Dawson had been cited for violations by the EPD, the Public Service Commission and other agencies for various reasons.
“We are going through that list to get those things corrected first and foremost, because those things should have never happened,” Hester said. “Accountability, transparency are the important things here. The taxpayers deserve that.
“The city of Dawson is reasonably profitable to itself. So many water leaks, so many gas leaks and meter issues. Mismanagement more than anything. We are changing all those little structures as we go. The water system has not been maintained in four to six years.”
In one of his first steps toward the goals of accessibility and accountability, Hester and City Clerk Roxie Powell moved their offices from the bowels of City Hall to offices with streetfront access.
“That was one of the first things I wanted to do,” th enew city manager said. “People can come in and see Roxie and get their business taken care of. I’m personally answering the phone and taking complaints and calls to see what we can do to get it straight. “We have dealt with personnel issues, everyday administration issues.”
Hester said the community and city personnel are responding to his requests.
“I think I’ve been well-received so far,” he said. “People are stepping up and doing what I’ve asked. We are getting a lot of thank-you calls for fixing the roads and leaks,” he said. “The Public Works employees here are some good guys. But they have been left to their own devises. They haven’t been given a whole lot of instruction or direction on what to do. I compliment them on hanging on the way they have.
“That’s part of my deal: to structure it so they know how to prioritize and take a little better care of our citizens.”
Hester said he is thankful for the “neighborly” assistance surrounding counties have provided. Americus installed a 6-inch waterline at no charge, Albany Utilities has pitched in and Lee County management has reached out to him as well.
Hester said he is working to ensure that repairs are done in an appropriate manner.
“Instead of just pouring rock into a hole, we are actually cutting them out and compacting the soil before pouring concrete colored to match the asphalt,” he said. “The finances here are like the infrastructure. They are in a shambles. One of the first things I want to do is create a finance department and hire a financial director to organize this place like it should have been.”
Currently, sales tax is not being tracked accurately in the city, the city manager said. It appears, he added, that it has been almost a decade since any effort was made to seek Community Development Block Grants. No efforts had been made to seek FEMA funds. The city has purchased an overabundance of property with no plan to utilize it.
Hester proposes some of these properties be offered free for development. He is already reaching out to potential developers.
“You can sit on Highway 82 and see hundreds of trucks,” he said. “A really good truck and gas facility would be good.”
Hester said he is working to bring in businesses that will create jobs, giving an educated work force the opportunity to stay in Terrell County.
“Life is good; there’s a lot to do in a short time,” he said. “I have a bad habit of wanting it done now. I need to slow up and methodically do this. Just last Friday, I was out helping spread concrete. It’s gonna be fun, but it’s a hell of a task. Hopefully, when you come back you will see the results.”