COVINGTON, Ga. - On Thursday, October 30, 1980 most people were gearing up for the first Halloween of a new decade, but Billy Bouchillon was busy starting a new career with the City of Covington that would take him through six different departments during his 38-year tenure.
At just 19-years-old, Bouchillon, a life-long Newton County resident, was working for an electric company with a temporary job of installing directional signage on jet ways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, an outdoor job he wasn’t too fond of.
“That was in the middle of one of the hottest summers I can remember,” Bouchillon said. “Working in the heat and humidity on that concrete was awful. Something had to give.”
Knowing he needed a change in careers, Bouchillon asked Sam Walton, the City of Covington’s Public Works Director at the time, if anything was available and fortunately for Bouchillon, it was… at a starting rate of $3.74 an hour.
“My first job was at the water plant on Williams Street,” Bouchillon said. “You have to realize, that water plant was built in the 1940’s and I vividly remember walking in there my first day and thinking ‘man, this place is a little antiquated’ but it was home for me for a few years and that started my career at the City. I have some fond memories of that plant.”
The water treatment plant meant long, odd hours often working alone and never getting to enjoy weekends off. Anyone who knows Bouchillon and his personality understands he is a people-person and the isolation at the water plant didn’t fully utilize Bouchillon’s talents.
From the water treatment plant, Bouchillon held several positions over the next 15 years until he was named Assistant Public Works Director in 1997, a position that interacts with the public regularly and was much more suited to Bouchillon’s personality and abilities.
“Billy is such a wealth of knowledge and has tremendous customer service skills,” said City Manager Leigh Anne Knight. “It doesn’t matter how irate a citizen can get, Billy finds a way to connect with them and find a solution that works. Customer service experts will tell you problems are really just opportunities and Billy embodies that.”
In 2005 Bouchillon was promoted to Public Works Director and in 2012, Deputy City Manager, a position he was reluctant to take, but now calls one of his proudest work-related moments.
“I really didn’t want to be Deputy City Manager, but the City Manager at the time, Steve Horton asked me to do it and made me feel confident about accepting the position,” Bouchillon said. “It was a great honor to be chosen and I am very appreciative he thought enough of me to ask.”
Horton said the choice to appoint Bouchillon was simple.
“Over the years, I actually appointed Billy to three different positions,” Horton said. “First, I appointed him as Assistant Public Works Director, later as Public Works Director and last as Deputy City Manager. In all three cases, Billy was the obvious choice given his experience in city operations and his overall knowledge of employees and a great many of the town’s citizens.
“Equally important in my decisions to appoint Billy to each position is his exceptional ability to always see the good in every person and situation that comes his way.”
Bouchillon said two of the largest differences he has witnessed over the past 38 years are the number of employees and regulations.
“We probably had 150 employees in the early 1980s and nearly 350 today, but our infrastructure and the size of our population demands that,” Bouchillon said. “The other big difference is how regulated we are from a safety standpoint. We were the first Public Works department in Georgia and just the third in the nation to be accredited. I am proud of everyone that helped accomplish and maintain that accreditation.”
When asked where he saw city governmental operations in the next 38 years, Bouchillon had a couple predictions that may not come as a surprise to many.
“First, with the leadership the city has currently, the City of Covington is going to be just fine,” he said. “I am sure the next 38 years will see this population double… actually I may be way off. It might triple.”
With his last day of employment scheduled for his birthday, June 12, Bouchillon has a few things planned for his immediate retirement, but has no concrete plans for the distant future.
“My wife Kathy and I have some trips planned over the next six months and I am going to play a lot of golf,” Bouchillon said. “When hunting season comes, you will find me in a tree stand, but eventually I will want to find some sort of two or three day a week job. I am not the type of person who can sit at home.”
Regardless of his future endeavors, city leaders past and present will miss Bouchillon’s guidance and intricate knowledge of the city.
"People don't stay with the same employer for nearly four decades by coincidence. That happens because they are extremely talented at their craft and are typically a good person away from work as well. Billy is the perfect example of both,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “His knowledge, work ethic, wisdom and sense of humor will all be greatly missed by not only his coworkers but the residents of Covington as well.”
In addition to Covington’s citizens losing a wealth of knowledge, City of Covington employees are losing an advocate.
“As an employee, there was never a question about who was looking out for you and had your back,” said current employee Anderson Bailey. “You could go to Billy with any concern you had and rest assured he was going to treat you fair and make the decision that was in the best interest of everyone involved.”
One thing citizens and employees will agree on is there will never be another employee like Bouchillon.
“Above all else, Billy is a fine man and I know none better,” Horton said. “I consider it an honor to have worked alongside him at the City of Covington. When he is gone, his position may be refilled, but Billy will never be replaced.”