Most public works directors and other local government employees that have pursued a career in this field have at one time or another began what I like to call a "Quest for Mayberry." Perhaps a better way of putting it is a quest for a utopian society, but being a big fan of the Andy Griffith show, I prefer to call it a quest for Mayberry.
I have often thought about what it would be like to live in Mayberry. In Mayberry, people were proud of where they lived and they took care of one another. The local government was hands-on, face-to-face, and totally dedicated to its citizens. Citizens respected the government, and even though there was a problem in every episode, the problems always worked out in the end. And most of the problems were solved by local government officials and residents working together.
My quest for Mayberry started when I was very young and I was told that dreams can come true and one person's efforts could make the world a better place. This belief survived despite many failures. Going to college on an Army ROTC scholarship and a partial wrestling scholarship my career plans were pretty much set for the eight years after college. Instead of worrying about a career path, I chose to study political science so I could learn about philosophies and beliefs that would make the world a better place. Eventually the wrestling and ROTC training led to an injury that ended both careers, and I was faced with having a degree in political science—but, of course, no career.
After contemplating law school and discussing my plans with others, I came to the conclusion that the world had enough lawyers, but not enough good public managers. So I found myself working toward a master's degree in public management from East Tennessee State University where I had awesome teachers. One was John Campbell, a former city manager of Johnson City, who taught me the important role of public services. He convinced me that public works had saved more lives than any vaccine or doctor. It is because of public works that the plagues that used to wipe out large populations every few years finally came to an end.
Because of this teacher, I began to think that perhaps my quest for Mayberry could be found in the realm of public works management. I saw that among all public services, public works is the most hands-on and does the most good. Public works creates clean cities, beautiful parks, and safe roads— and it is truly a miracle to see fresh water coming out of a faucet and to see toilet water turned back into drinking water. With this in mind, I knew that I wanted to be part of the world's oldest profession.
In the Beginning
My training in public works started in Jonesborough, Tenn., the oldest town in the state and the closest thing I've seen to Mayberry. Jonesborough is beautiful, the people are friendly, and they love their town. There is a sense of “community” that is widespread and friends are made easily. As the caretaker of the city, being its operations manager and public works director, I fell in love with Jonesborough. But even though it was, in my mind, a Mayberry, I felt the urge to move on. Living in Mayberry was great, but my mission was to create a Mayberry, not to live in one, so I found Millersville.
Millersville is one of the state's newest cities. It has a population of 5400 and is divided between two counties. It is known for its litter problem, illegal dump sites, and an abundance of trailer parks. Residents of Millersville are scarcely aware they live in Millersville since they don't even have a unique ZIP code. Many of the residents are unhappy about living in Millersville because they were annexed into the town and did not want to be within its city limits. They hate being referred to as Millersville residents. I felt Millersville was the best place to start my “Quest for Mayberry” because, despite the problems, it is a beautiful place with two major creeks and high hills, which contrast with the surrounding rolling hills of the Nashville area.
Another problem with Millersville is that it lacks any identifying characteristics of a city. Most true cities have a centralized business district with walkways, a court house, and a square. Millersville doesn't have a centralized business district; it doesn't have a high school, parks, post office, hospital, last food restaurants, traffic signal, major employer, or even a Wal-Mart, which is becoming the trademark of American civilization. In fact, the city is cut in two by I-65, and Millersville's small businesses use Goodlettsville, Ridgetop, and White House (small neighboring cities) in their names instead of Millersville.
I needed to find a way to clean up the city so that illegal dump sites, run-down properties, litter, and other eyesores did not detract from the natural beauty. The residents needed to see the paradise underneath the garbage. At the same time, Millersville needed a unifying characteristic to let people know that they live there and to let those passing through also know they are in Millersville.
Finally, the community needed to get involved in a city service. We offered policing, but the community's only involvement with this service was to complain or if they were violating a law. The fire department was another service, but it was only needed when something was on fire. The sewer system is certainly an essential service, but most people never think about sewers unless they are paying the bill. I was looking for a service that would connect every resident to Millersville on a weekly basis.