Chandler Williamson wants the city of Pahokee to be a place people flock to on the strength of its economic and social opportunities. He wants to remove the obstacles that could dissuade someone from moving here, or locating their business here, and he thinks he has the right mix of knowledge, political relationships, and energy to give Pahokee the chance it needs to succeed in today’s world.
“When I was being interviewed I said, ‘We’ve become too comfortable here and we have to become uncomfortable to be successful,’” Mr. Williamson said in an interview with The Sun recently. “I look at the city of Pahokee as a business. You have to think business-minded to be successful; that goes for all parts of Pahokee, community-wide, socially, educationally, and government.”
Asked why he chose Pahokee, the new manager said he understood the challenges and dynamics of this rural area, and was excited at opportunities that have never quite been tapped – the city’s access to Lake Okeechobee, eco-tourism, a potential to diversify industry locally.
“I think the environment has always been there for this region to partner with the external audience, there just hasn’t been a true discussion on how we get there and how we can come together to build those partnerships and expand our economic opportunities. You can’t say past city managers or past city commissioners have failed to do their jobs. I just don’t think there has been a real true focus from all sides.”
Given his previous experience in South Florida for more than a decade, after which he moved to Atlanta to pursue his Ph.D. in public administration, Mr. Williamson believes he forged enough partnerships at the local and state levels, and a keen understanding of the political landscape in Florida, to return and do well for Pahokee.
“Coming back is not a foreign thing to me,” he said. “Had I been someone who had never been in South Florida, I probably would not have applied for the job because I would have agreed, the challenges [are substantial].”
Though Mr. Williamson has been on the job since April 6, and is nearing nearly two months as the city’s top employee, he has done much more listening, and much less policy making, making it a point to do very little in terms of major policy changes in his first 60 to 90 days on the job. The listening tour, Mr. Williamson expects, should give him a firmer understanding of the city of Pahokee operationally.
“We’re just asking questions, looking at the day-to-day operations,” said the manager. “Are we getting the best out of our employees in an eight hour day? How do we communicate with the community at large? Are we working efficiently and effectively? Do we have well-trained employees in each department?”
Part of the discussion that is taking place between staff and the new manager, during monthly general and directors meetings at city hall, is his expectation of a high standard for the city.
“I believe in performance management when it comes to public services, and that means, do we have the right people in the right positions to provide those services at an optimal level?” said Mr. Williamson.
He insists that his own vision for the city is useless without a staff that is able to support and implement it.
“That’s what makes a true administrator successful, to realize that you need a successful team around you. “I want people who have a bigger vision than my vision, who come in to work and that the city of Pahokee can be proud of.
“A lot goes into that: infrastructure, housing, we don’t have housing here, don’t have a housing stock, we have to be honest with ourselves that we have infrastructure issues. We have dilapidated structures that need to be demolished, until we start really attacking those things, we can’t be a city and community of choice.”
One change that has been made, according to the new manager, has been the reimplementation of a five-day work week. Previously, the city of Pahokee operated on a four-day schedule, with employees reporting to work Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Now, at Mr. Williamson’s direction, the city will resume its Monday through Friday work week, with employees reporting to work each day at 8 a.m. and closing out the work day at 5 p.m. This, Mr. Williamson explained, is meant to display a more professional, responsive city hall for residents.
Given the past histories of previous managers, and the oftentimes contentious circumstances surrounding most of their departures from the city, Mr. Williamson hopes to upend the status quo by reaching out equally across the board to every city commissioner. Before each meeting, the manager sits down with each commissioner and provides a summary of his manager’s report.
“That reduces a lot of questions. It streamlines the time we spend in the chambers. It does something else, it bridges the commission into a solidarity group, where they’re on the same page even though they weren’t in the same room together.”
Where former managers tended to side with some commissioners over others, creating a hostile relationship with the offended leaders, Mr. Williamson hopes to avoid that altogether.
“I treat them all the same. There’s no favoritism here. As far as which commissioner I prefer best, I prefer them all.”