I miss Buddy Ouzts. Not that the current mayor isn’t doing a good job, it’s just I miss the way living in Winder felt all those years Buddy was at the helm. There was a spirit of service to the citizens that seems to have faded under the current management.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there were and still are a lot of hard working, dedicated people who work for the city. And I realize Buddy didn’t accomplish any of the things that were done for the citizens of Winder during his tenure alone. Even if it isn’t obvious in the spelling, there is a “team” in “city” and no mayor gets much done without understanding that.
What Buddy brought to the table was a tone of leadership that said, “We’re here to serve.” That is a tone we don’t always hear coming out of the current city administrator’s office and it is a tone, as a citizen, I miss.
Another thing I miss about Buddy’s management style is the spirit of “Why not?” rather than “Why should we?”
Under Mayor Ouzts, the thinking went something like: “The city has some old empty buildings downtown. Why not turn them into a community college and a center for the arts?” Done. “What? Youth crime is a problem and we have no Boys & Girls Club. Why not put a team together to work on that and get the ball rolling with some city muscle and funds?” Done. “Hmm…there’s a bunch of city buildings that need work and now we’ve got these big projects underway. Why not hire our own contractor/maintenance men instead of farming all that work out?”
I know Buddy didn’t accomplish these things alone; there were, and still are, a lot of people making significant contributions in terms of time, money and ideas. It’s just that as mayor, Buddy seemed to have a gift for seeing what could happen and then building or becoming part of a team that made it work. I don’t see as much “thinking outside the box” going on down at city hall these days.
Granted, Buddy served during much better economic times, but shouldn’t the challenges the current administration faces result in some new ideas and action plans?
I applaud the city’s participation in the Livable Cities Initiative. It sounds like that will give the city access to funding for projects that otherwise might never happen, which is a good thing. Now that the LCI study is done and the results are in, the challenge for city leaders will be to come up with a consensus on what should happen, when and then get going on some funds procurement and team building that will end in results. It’s going to take a big dose of “Why not?” thinking and I hope that spirit can be rekindled.
It sounds like our new city councilman, Bob Dixon, is stirring things up a bit by asking questions and making service-oriented suggestions – another good thing. He may prove to be the spark that gets that “We’re here to serve” flame going again.
The recent flap about city utility bills is indicative of how the leadership climate has eased away from a clear dedication to service, since Buddy’s days. Apparently, Winder utility customers had an extra 10 days on their last utility bill, due to some computer and city meter-reading personnel problems. Since those 10 days were amongst the coldest of the year, some really big utility bills went out and initially, the city was not even going to work with people on the late fees.
Minimal citizen/customer service would’ve been to include some kind of explanation flier with those big bills (a comment Councilman Dixon made during the last city council meeting.) Better customer service would’ve been to offer citizens some kind of payment plan and temporarily suspend late fees. The best citizen/customer service would be to offer budget billing to those who qualify – a service the city used to offer, but no longer does, except to those who are “grand-fathered” in.
The point is, Winder has a history of going above and beyond for its citizens and among the reasons for that are the passion for service and vision mayors like Buddy Ouzts have had. The recent trend towards expensive city management — with less mayor and council involvement — is a dangerous one, as serving “the city” doesn’t necessarily mean the citizens get served.
I urge Mayor Thompson and the council to take a more active role in bringing a “Can do,” “Why not?” and “How can we help?” attitude back to our city’s leadership.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.