Local government leaders are on a roll when it comes to regional awards.
Oxford’s new City Manager Bob Schwartz was named Administrator of the Year last week by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, bringing home the award a year after former Covington city manager Steve Horton did the same.
The Northeast Georgia region contains 12 counties, ranging from Newton County northeast through Athens-Clarke County to Elbert County. Jim Dove, executive director of the Northeast regional commission, said Schwartz won the award in part because he’s the perfect fit for Oxford.
"Bob is very organized; he is a detail-oriented person. He is compassionate and he is a person of irreproachable character," Dove said. "Bob is a perfect fit for Oxford, because it’s a great city council and mayor to work with, and he is also a tremendous benefit to our region, because he believes in coordinating and collaborating with other local governments. Bob is a great person, and I’m happy he received the award."
Schwartz took over the Oxford job in October 2012, and refuses to take credit for any particular accomplishments, instead praising the council, mayor and existing staff for keeping the city on its steady path.
He said the city’s elected officials trust one another and are committed to their jobs. He recalled one of the first council meetings when a zoning issue came up, and on top of debating the specific property in question, they discussed the theory and philosophy behind zoning.
"They go beyond the surface. They’re very serious about their fiduciary responsibility and other responsibilities and worry about what the city will look like in 20 years. I swear, there are a couple who can see around corners," Schwartz said with a smile.
According to a report, cities should be most worried about future retirement costs, health insurance costs and infrastructure costs, among others.
Schwartz said that Oxford — before he came — had already changed its retirement system to reduce the future burden, had made changes to its health insurance plan and had a capital budget plan that looks to address infrastructure concerns during the next few years.
Some of those projects include replacing old water lines; helping to build a new pedestrian bridge across Interstate 20 to better connect Oxford and Covington; and working to increase the connectivity of the electrical system, so that when a section of the system fails, most of the system can remain running while that one section is fixed.
In addition, the city has no debt — at all. Schwartz said the city paid its debt two months ago when it paid off three loans on its new city hall, maintenance facility and a joint water project with the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Schwartz has been pleased with the city’s residents as well, who have a strong sense of ownership of the town and truly want to address issues they see.
One of Schwartz’s contributions has been to introduce an honorary council member of the month program, which he used in other cities. Every month, a council member gets to select one Oxford resident to become an honorary council member. The resident sits in on meetings with the council and gets all the same documents the council gets. In addition, the resident gets a tour of the city’s departments to see the city through employees’ eyes and is taken out to lunch by Schwartz and the police chief.
He said the city also has a great relationship with Oxford College and the city of Covington and he has enjoyed working with those and other local entities.
Schwartz downplayed the award, but said it reaffirmed his hopes for getting his contract renewed.
"Let’s not count it before it’s hatched," Schwartz joked. "The virtue of a council-manager government is that the manager works for the council. You’re successful or unsuccessful based on how strong your relationship is with your council."
Schwartz previously served as city manager in Monticello, Garden City and Americus, as well as working in a government program at the University of Tennessee.
When Schwartz was hired, Mayor Jerry Roseberry had high hopes for him, saying, "He hit the top marks everywhere" in the interview process. Those hopes appear to have paid off.