Curt Spannraft

Name: Melissa Gentry, PE, MBA
Title: Assistant City Manager for Operations
Where: City of Columbia, S.C.
Population: 129,000
What: Oversees Public Works, Utilities and Engineering, Parking Services, General Services, and Planning and Development Services.
Combined budget: $292 million

One of Melissa Gentry’s favorite sayings is “bloom where you are planted,” and that’s what she’s done since joining the City of Columbia, S.C., as an intern. She never dreamed of becoming assistant city manager back then. She was too focused on doing the best she could on the assignments she was given. As she moved up through the ranks, though, she’s brought that determination to make a difference.

“My pride lies more with the comprehensive approach to fulfilling my obligations than with a single moment in time or any one project,” she says. “I have the opportunity to make a difference in the city where I work, live, and raise my kids.”

After creating a Sustainability Office within Public Works, Gentry hired a sustainability facilitator to guide the city’s efforts. She also nominated the facilitator to serve on the American Public Works Association’s new Center for Sustainability. The office has played an integral role in introducing sustainability to the profession as a result, with employees sharing their expertise via presentations and both regional and national publications.

Working with the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Gentry recently directed the state’s first installation of on-street bicycle parking corrals. Generally seen only on the West Coast, the devices create parking for up to 14 bicycles in one parking space in crowded hospitality districts, freeing up sidewalk space and encouraging a sustainable mode of transportation.

“God’s blessed me with a career that enables me to enhance the quality of life throughout Columbia and surrounding communities,” she says.