New leader in Norcross learning staff

NORCROSS - Warren Hutmacher has been in his new position as city administrator of Norcross for a little more than a month now. His reception by city staff has been welcoming and positive, according to the young public administrator.

"I really didn't know what to expect. It could have gone either way."

Not a surprising observation, since Norcross has been run pretty much by Mayor Lillian Webb and council members for years. Bringing in a new guy with the authority to change and set policy can be tricky.

"The staff have been welcoming and gracious and have bought off on my philosophy of observing, not running, departments," Hutmacher said. "I'm really more of an adviser to the department heads and act as a buffer between employees and elected officials."

Hutmacher is so committed to his "observe first, act later" philosophy that he has intentionally made no major changes to the way things are done since July 17, his first day on the job.

"I told people even during the interview process (for this job) that I'd take the time to observe, to learn how things are done and to learn personalities. I wouldn't tell 20-year employees how to do things after a week on the job. I think that's arrogant," said Hutmacher. "I want to make sure I know what I'm talking about before I change anything."

At 9 a.m. July 17, Hutmacher began meeting with department heads individually to understand what they do and how they do it. Those meetings are still taking place, and they will continue until Hutmacher feels that he fully understands the inner workings of the different departments that make the city run.

Make no mistake though, Hutmacher has been a busy man in City Hall. He stepped into his position just about the same time the controversial church property purchase took place.

City council members voted to acquire a piece of property and refurbish it to serve as the city's cultural arts/community center. Residents were divided as to the wisdom of this purchase, with some adamantly committed to building a new schoolhouse-replica structure that has been in the works for years.

"I don't have an opinion as to whether the purchase was a good idea or a bad one. We bought it. We're committed to making it a useable, valuable asset to the city," said Hutmacher.

In fact, several groups have already decided to use the church property for their purposes, including the Lionheart Theatre, a nonprofit community volunteer troupe.

Lionheart will begin performing in the church building in September and is already rehearsing there. Hutmacher said other community and theater groups have shown interest in using the recently purchased facility.

"We're excited about that. From an economic development standpoint, this is just one more reason for people to come to downtown Norcross," Hutmacher said.

The city is in the process of hiring a director for the facility who will have the duties of scheduling and maintenance of the center.

While the new city administrator has no formal involvement or responsibilities related to the city's Downtown Development Authority, the main street coordinator does work with Jennifer Peterson, the newly hired Norcross community development director. Therefore, there is a good "informal" relationship with the DDA. Hutmacher and Peterson will both attend an upcoming DDA retreat to share ideas with the group.

Hutmacher has also initiated a salary survey for city employees. The purpose of the survey is to see whether salaries already in place are in line with similar positions in other municipalities.

"We've got some really talented and dedicated professionals on staff here," Hutmacher said.

While Hutmacher is taking the first few months to learn the people and the processes in Norcross, he's made it clear that all city employees are part of a definite new culture.

"Professionalism, customer service and teamwork will be the culture here," Hutmacher said. "People will be treated with respect. They may not always get the answer that they want, but they will know that they were respected" when dealing with any city employee. "That will be a constant, no matter who is in office," Hutmacher said.

His educational background and the three and a half years he spent as city manager of Avondale Estates have afforded Hutmacher some valuable experience which he brings to managing Norcross' affairs.

"Both of these cities are beautiful places to live in an urban setting, and there are many similar issues. In Avondale Estates, I learned a lot about communication, project management, intergovernmental relations and economic redevelopment."

Once the Norcross city charter is officially changed during the next Georgia legislative session, Hutmacher's title will become city manager. The responsibilities are largely the same as a city administrator's, but Hutmacher will have the ability to hire and terminate city employees as city manager.