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Richard Anderson did a great job for Brooksville

By JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON III
Published February 27, 2007


As a four-term mayor and member of the Brooksville City Council for more than 131/2 years, it was my pleasure to have worked with Richard Anderson as our city manager for most of that time. Although during the selection process he was not my first choice (I confess I no longer remember who was), I am thankful, personally and professionally, he was chosen.

Prior to his tenure as manager, Brooksville operated in much the same manner as it had for the previous 30 years: Functional, but with a minimum of vision. Immediately prior to his hiring, the City Council was the subject of a fractious recall and general election, which resulted in replacement of four of the five members. This was the situation that confronted Richard as the newly hired manager for the City of Brooksville.

Richard quickly made a very favorable impression with his expertise and professionalism. Realizing change was necessary, but that small-town politics and bureaucracy required a thorough and balanced approach, he was deliberate in his efforts to update the administration of the city.

Under his management, the city began to apply for and receive numerous state and federal grants, which allowed us to improve and expand the water and sewer systems, and to plan for and implement many other improvements.

Although this may seem standard operating procedure for a city of our size, in the 15 years prior to his hiring, the city had applied for a total of one federal grant and its management was generally considered to have been disastrous, resulting in a public relations nightmare.

One of Richard's more ambitious mergers of need, planning and vision was the establishment in 1995 of the Brooksville Emergency Response Team (BERT), which was created as a result of his previous managerial experience with disaster response in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Florida City. BERT was funded largely by state and federal grants and acquired equipment, including a mobile command center, generators, communication equipment and other materials that could be used in numerous emergency situations. Since its inception, BERT has responded to declared disasters throughout Florida and in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The dedication of the BERT members (consisting of city employees from many departments) has brought praise for Brooksville from benefited communities throughout the Southeast. When BERT is not required for operations outside of the city, its equipment and the training and expertise of its members is available for the benefit of our residents.

Planning for the future was virtually nonexistent before Richard was hired. Since then, short- and long-term capital improvement plans are submitted and reviewed on a regular basis, the city has more than doubled in area, with the potential to more than triple its population. City Hall was moved from a rabbit-warren of offices into functional offices with adequate room for future expansion, as required. Richard's vision and persistence were vital to implementation of such planning.

Understanding that the growth of the city and the realities of the workplace were changing the dynamics of smaller cities, Richard established a human resources department. This has resulted in a more professional relationship between management and employees within the city, and moved us away from the prior, more paternalistic, model.

Perhaps his greatest impact on the city is the result of the people Richard hired to oversee various departments. I can state without reservation that in almost every area over which he had the authority to select the department head, the result is that the person who was in the job upon my departure from the council was, in every respect, more qualified, knowledgeable and professional than those who previously held the post. It may be this ability to judge and attract quality, talented people to a position that may be less attractive or may offer less compensation than another opportunity available to the applicant, that most defines his leadership ability.

In my interaction with Richard over the years, I have found him to be unfailingly courteous, cooperative and professional in his dealings with council, employees and the public.

If there was a matter submitted to him for which the answer was readily available, he would make the effort to resolve the issue in a timely manner.

By necessity, managers in a small city are required to have a broad base of knowledge and have the ability to understand aspects of many different matters that affect their city. Richard possesses those qualities in abundance.

It is not an easy task to balance the management of a municipality with the knowledge that you are responsible to a political, elected board, which must be satisfied with your performance on a daily basis. However, for the period of my association, Richard was able to accomplish that task in an exemplary manner.

The retirement of Richard Anderson brings to an end what I consider to be the beginning of a renaissance in Brooksville. I am hopeful the progress will continue, but whatever the future holds, I will be forever grateful to him for the major role he played in bringing us to the place we are today.

Joseph E. Johnston III is a former Brooksville council member and mayor. Guest columnists write their own opinions on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.