Bill Meecham has always liked to build things, whether it’s adding to the model railroad setup in his basement, rebuilding a broken-down radio, or building bigger, more effective electricity and gas supply systems for the city of Covington.
After spending 20 years keeping the city’s lights on, Meecham is retiring from his position as the city’s utilities director.
"I think I enjoyed (my work) because it was a form of construction. I was always expanding or upgrading systems, doing maintenance, doing different things to provide service to people," Meecham said Thursday. "It doesn’t sound exciting compared to certain more glamorous careers, but it provided a large degree of satisfaction."
Meecham took a lot of satisfaction in seeing a project through from inception to completion and use.
When the city added substations to upgrade its lines and improve service quality, Meecham saw residents benefit from that work. When officials spent time working on a proposal to lure a prospective industry, he – at least occasionally – got to see the company locate in Covington and hire local workers.
"I enjoyed the work, but I wanted to do things that help the community, and bringing in industry brings in jobs," Meecham said. "I believe if you have more industry, if it’s quality, you can improve the local economy."
At the same time, the job came with its fair share of challenges, as utility rates are always a hot topic for residents, who want great service at a cheap price.
"Utilities are a business, and good utility management is not always compatible with good politics," Meecham said.
However, the city made a lot of strides during the past several years in lowering the cost of its electricity in particular, working to purchase larger supplies at more stable prices instead of having to shop on the open market.
Over the years, Meecham became more hands-on in working with the city’s consultants to purchase power supplies.
Meecham will miss the work; he’s always loved to tinker and blew out his first fuse, the first of many, when he was 5 years old and experimenting with an extension cord. People used to give him old, broken radios, so he could take them apart and attempt to fix them "generally with no success," he said.
However, Meecham will miss people the most, he said, including the camaraderie and teamwork.
And he’ll be missed in return, for his work ethic and loyalty. Deputy City Manager Billy Bouchillon said Meecham’s work adding substations and adding the ability for the city "to switch electrical feeds so that a smaller percentage of customers are affected by an outage" has made the city more efficient. He said most power outages are fixed within 30-40 minutes because of that ability to better isolate damaged or malfunctioning areas.
"I guarantee you people who have lived here for 30 years or more have noticed that difference," Bouchillon said. "Bill has always been loyal to his employees and their needs, and his knowledge of Covington’s electrical system is unbelievable. When he retires, he will be missed by us all."
Meecham is still a relative newcomer to Covington in many ways, taking over for former electric superintendent Billy Davis in 1993. Prior to that, Meecham had worked for the Marietta Board of Lights and Water for many years as its engineering and projects manager. But Cobb County was growing too big for his comfort, so he decided to move to Newton County, which was more rural, but still growing and developing.
He also used to be a disc jockey, and there’s a hint of "radio voice" still in his speech, though he says the radio voice is greatly faded from previous years.
Born in Savannah and raised in Hinesville, Meecham has no plans to leave Covington, planning instead to fix up his house, landscape his property and work on his model train.
He also plans to travel frequently, including a trip to Alaska and the Grand Teton National Park and a return trip to Glacier National Park. He’ll also indulge his photography habit.
He plans to take it a little easier, which he hopes will be around mid-August, as soon as the city can hire a replacement.