SUWANEE - Hardin Watkins, Suwanee's longtime city manager, is leaving the city after more than nine years to take the job of town manager in Garner, N.C. He begins his new job April 30.
Watkins is the third city leader to announce his departure in the past several months.
Councilman Alan Landers resigned last month, and Mayor Nick Masino said he will not seek re-election this November, after accepting a job at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
"It's been such a great team in Suwanee," Masino said. "It's sad the team is breaking up. ... We're happy for him because it makes him happy, but it's like a friend moving away."
Garner, a town of about 25,000, is eight miles south of Raleigh. The town has 155 employees.
"The Garner town manager position presents a new opportunity for me professionally with a chance to manage a larger community and address new challenges," Watkins said. "On a personal level, it offers an opportunity to return to my home state and work in very close proximity to my brother, nephews and niece."
Watkins was hired as Suwanee's city manager in July 1997. At the time, the city had a population of about 5,000, and 24 city employees. Today, Suwanee is home to about about 15,700 people and has 88 employees.
"He grew as we grew," Masino said of Watkins. "He's given us fantastic service. If you treat a professional as a professional, they are going to give you their best."
Under Watkins' direction, Suwanee undertook an award-winning open space initiative, through which the city has acquired more than 270 acres of open space. Four new parks have also been created.
Watkins has directed the creation of a new town center, enhanced land-use planning strategies and guidelines, expansion and improvement of the city's water services, design of a new City Hall to be opened in 2009, adoption of a community policing philosophy, and implementation of high-quality customer service.
"Suwanee is successful because of a collaborative effort among our citizens, city staff and City Council," Councilwoman Jeannine Rispin said. "Hardin has been an integral part of this team. We sure hate to see him go, but wish him all the best on his return to North Carolina."
Watkins is a native of Hendersonville, N.C., and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina.