BALLINGER — Tommy Turney is the new city manager for Ballinger. He took office less than two weeks ago and has hit the ground running.
“We’ve started a tracking program to service work orders,” Turney said. “Not only can we track work orders being completed but we can also track trends. I believe in customer service and accountability. The first week that we installed the work order system we had eighty work orders. The very next week we had over 200 work orders. The system is working and the city employees are becoming more active.”
Turney’s experience is unique and a seemingly perfect fit for Ballinger. He was working for an oil company in Saudi Arabia where he built refineries. Building the refinery itself wasn’t necessarily where he received the experience particularly suited to Ballinger.
“The king would tell us to build five refineries in the middle of the desert,” Turney said. “We’d build the refineries but we’d also have to build towns for the workers and their families, which could range in population from 5,000 to 40,000. We had to build the refinery, build the town, build the infrastructure and make it all work in the middle of the desert. Providing water, sewer, electricity, roads and various buildings gives you a lot of experience. You have to meet the needs of the population.”
One tenet of his administration in Ballinger is communication. Communication is a key to any successful operation and Turney recognizes that.
“Communication is huge,” he said. “If we can communicate to the public what we’re doing, we can answer questions in a timely manner and keep the citizenry informed. We want to generate a positive attitude. We have challenges from the past to overcome, such as the lack of communication previously experienced here.”
His myriad of duties in the construction of towns and refineries provided him the tools he needs to be successful.
“As the city manager here, one of my jobs is new economic development but I also have to wear many hats such as the dealing with the state hat, employee relations hat, public relations hat and communications hat,” Turney said. He also spoke of the economy in Ballinger, “Economic development is the key to bring greater prosperity to Ballinger. If we don’t have economic development, we don’t have prosperity.”
Turney sees the potential in Ballinger, and he’s not just saying that, he honestly believes that, “Ballinger is a diamond in the rough. We have tons of potential here and we have untapped resources. But we have to start at the ground with infrastructure. I have a friend that was a businessman and a member of the chamber of commerce in his city. I asked him for advice and he said, ‘Start with the roads.’ He was right and I have started with the roads.”
True to his word, we drive out to the 13th Street Bridge where he had a crew working on a drainage issue. The water passages under the bridge have become silted in with mud and debris over the years and he and his crew are clearing them out. About 1/3 of the area the water passed through was packed with silt and mud and even had trees growing on the opposite side. During the recent rains, there was some minor flooding and Turney decided to address that first.
“We had to set up barriers on the road during the flooding,” Turney said. “We decided to start a drainage improvement project. One step in accomplishing that is that we’re going to clear out bottlenecks in all of the drainage areas.”
The 13th Street Bridge was built in the early 1930s. The work being done in the area is extensive. There are dozers and backhoes moving yard upon yard of material out of the creek area, including removing material that settled into the culverts passing under the bridge. They have already cleared a lot of vegetation by cutting down some trees and clearing the other brush out of the area. One obstacle is a pipe that traverses the creek and they’re working around that. Turney is conscious of the requirements for performing the work, “Clearing this bridge and removing ‘the 13th Street dip’ are things that have needed to be done for years. The dip has become infamous and everyone has a story about it. We have to be conscious of the cost but at the same time we have the manpower and we have the equipment to perform the work. Part of communication is telling the people of our progress and keeping them updated. We will tell people what we’re doing and keep them informed.”
Turney is a hands-on guy and personally inspects the work being performed so he can ensure it is being done satisfactorily. He also communicates directly with the residents while keeping the city council and mayor aware of what is going on. As we prepare to go to the next location, he talks about the infrastructure in Ballinger.
“Some of the systems in Ballinger haven’t been updated in thirty years, such as using paper time sheets.,” he said. “We were still using them and we’re working on getting a time clock with a biometric scan to be more efficient and to save the manpower hours of the people who have to take those hand-written time sheets and enter them in the system. What used to take days will now take hours. Then we can use that freed up time to work on other projects.”
As he looks for ways to streamline various processes in Ballinger, Turney believes in being available to talk to citizens.
“I’m giving people a voice from the teachers to the truck drivers, everyone in the city,” he said. “The people of Ballinger have a voice here. I’m listening to them and I welcome suggestions. I want them to tell me if they have an idea or suggestion.”
One requirement of his duties as city manager is to create economic growth in the city. “It is my responsibility for businesses to be successful here and I accept and will shoulder that responsibility,” Turney said. “We have the potential and we have the resources, we just need to put it all together. We have a great city council and chamber of commerce and we all have the goal of doing great things for Ballinger together.”
Turner has a vision for the park on the river south of Colorado Blvd. He wants to work on a five-year plan to freshen up the park and perhaps put a walking trail along the river. Currently the park is seeing little, if any use.
“This park has great potential,” Turney said. “We need to clean it up and do some work, we need to apply for some grants and we need to get some things funded, work through the details and make the park a place that people want to come to.”
He points out the highway 67 bridge over the Colorado. The highway is about 200 yards away with tall trees blocking your line-of-sight so that you only get fleeting glimpses of cars as they pass by. Turney believes the park can be a resource for the city.
“Thousands of people use that highway every day,” he said. “Those people never see this park, but we can change that. We can make this something that people want to come to with their family or even just for lunch. We have the ability to turn this place around.”
Turney grew up and graduated from high school in Ballinger. He says that he is here to stay.
“I’m not on my way through Ballinger. I’m here to stay,” Turney said. “My family is here. We have a genuine interest in seeing this town become more successful. We have to adjust to things as they change and keep pushing the ball forward, never going backward. I feel like I bring a lot of experience to the table, from Saudi Arabia to Dubai and I have the tools and knowledge for us to be successful.”
I spent three hours with Turney and listened to his philosophy on bringing more success to Ballinger, he showed me his vision for the river and park and let me in on part of his five-year plan. Turney is a man with vision, a man with many positive ideas and possesses a great deal of experience. Turney is a hometown product, with hometown values and goals. He has already received a “Thank You” letter from one citizen who had an issue that Turney and his guys addressed. As is his way, Turney went out there himself, looked over the problem, talked to his men and got the problem rectified.
With Turney you’re just as likely to find him out wearing his hard-hat and supervising a job site as you are to find him sitting in his office wearing any of his many hats. He’ll be “pushing the ball forward” and doing his part along with the city council and chamber of commerce, to bring greater prosperity to Ballinger and address infrastructure issues.