HIGH SPRINGS – Recently hired High Springs City Manager Edwin Booth says the City’s sewer project is his number one issue as he neared completion of his first official week as High Springs’ new city manager.
“I have a meeting with the USDA on Jan. 7, 2013, to discuss the project with them, make sure the funding is still available, explain that the development we had hoped would come to High Springs has not and discuss the work that needs to be completed,” he said. “The City Commissioners have been part of this project for quite some time and are pretty well educated on the issues. I need to become more educated than they are.”
“I will be doing a lot of reading during the holidays regarding the City’s sewer project,” explained Booth, who said he wants to go back to the City Commission with his findings and suggestions “as soon as possible.”
“There is a lot of work to be done on this project,” explained Booth who said he will need to look at what engineering has been done and where the lines are located to get a clear picture of the system.
In response to the long list of items presented to Booth by the commission at the December meeting, Booth explained that he’s done all of it before.
“Every city manager has a million things on their plate. There is nothing they have asked for that is all that unusual,” he said noting that many of the items are long-term and cannot be resolved quickly. “I look forward to the challenge of working through those issues and going back to them with additional information and/or suggestions to resolve the issues that may have been hanging over them for some time.”
While Booth’s first official week on the job has concluded, he has been on-board “unofficially” for two previous weeks, overlapping with Interim City Manager Lee Vincent.
“This was a very smooth transition,” said Booth. Both Vincent and Booth have had similar military and city management experiences, which Booth said made for an easy transition. Vincent retired from the military after 26 years in the Navy and 13 years in city management positions. Booth retired from the military after 28 years in the Army and 30 years in city and community management positions with multi service organizations. Both achieved the rank of Commanding Officer. While Booth jokes that Vincent was not in the best branch of the military, it is obvious Booth has a great deal of respect for Vincent and the work he’s been able to do for the City during his tenure as interim city manager. “He would have made an excellent city manager for this town had he wanted to come out of retirement at this time,” said Booth.
Booth believes High Springs has a tremendous amount of potential. “Growth has been slowed down by the same economic conditions that all towns have been plagued with,” he said. Once the country gets past this protracted recession, Booth predicts the city will once again start moving forward to expansion. “The county is ready for that and we’re the lynchpin community to be able to support and provide housing for this county’s residents,” he said confidently.
“With available land, platted property, sewer and water in place, it will be just a matter of the right circumstances and the development will come,” he said.
One of Booth’s goals is to increase communication with the commission and the residents so there is a clear understanding about what is being done and why.
“I believe the people will have much more confidence in their town’s decisions once they understand why things are being done,” he said. “I realize there has been a lot of controversy in High Springs. As I read the newspapers, I realize some of that has been caused by miscommunication. I hope better communication will help eliminate some of the controversy in the future.”
Another area Booth has been tasked with is assuming the post of the Executive Director of the CRA. “Unless you are in a large city with a large tax base to support a paid executive director, the city manager almost always ends up in that role. It is customary for a town this size and once again, nothing unusual,” he said.
Booth said he already has a meeting set up with Carol Westmoreland of the League of Cities in Tallahassee. “The League of Cities runs the CRA,” he said. The CRA is due to expire in 2016 by state law. “There are possibly a few exceptions that may allow us to continue forward,” he said, “but not a lot. So we’re either going to have to start all over again, which requires support of the county or state or we can ask for an exception.” Noting that this issue is a couple of years away, he said he would recommend the City hold public hearings and get input from downtown business owners regarding where to go from here.
He also wants to hold a public hearing to get input from the citizens on the use of the old school house. That will not be likely to happen until after he and City Attorney Scott Walker review any stipulations that might have been imposed as part of the funding for the school renovation.
Booth explained, “Members of the public are the stakeholders here. We need to hear what they want before deciding anything. There is less dissention when ideas provided by the group are reviewed and evaluated as opposed to the City deciding on their own and then telling the public how they can use the building.”
As part of coming on board, Booth said he met with all the commissioners. “They are a great group,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for anybody who would put that much time and effort into the betterment of their community.”
“I treat all of the commissioners the same and don’t play politics,” he said. “I give every commissioner the same information so they can all make the best decisions possible.”
He repeated something he had said during his interview. “If the council makes a bad decision, I didn’t give them enough or the right information. When they make their decision, it becomes mine. I have to take it on and make it happen, so I want them to make the best decisions possible.”
Booth comes from a military family. His father was in the Army for 22 years and retired the year Booth went into the Army at the young age of 17. He now has three grown children, two girls and one boy, a grandson and granddaughter. While he is proud of them all and says so, he added that his son is carrying on the military tradition as a fighter pilot for the Air Force. “
Booth left the military for a time and became a police officer in Albuquerque, N.M. while attending college at the University of New Mexico. He went back into the military to fly helicopters and stayed for the remainder of his 28 years of service. He obtained a BS in Management from Columbia College, a MA in Public Administration/Management at Webster University and a MS in Military Science at the Command General Staff College, a military college.
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