City Manager Tommy Turney was hired as the new city administrator at the beginning of September 2018. The job had been vacant for almost a year as former city administrator Bryan Grimes left to accept a position in Willow Park in October 2017. The biggest issue he inherited was looking for money from 3 CDs cashed out by the city in 2016. He’s tackled that by bringing in an accountant to track down how the money was spent and to get the city’s books in order. The city administrator prior to Grimes, Tommy New, had left the city in good position with several CDs. Turney has almost completed the inquiry with the accountant and is due to give a report at the next city council meeting on February 4th.
In addition to heading up the CD funds investigation, Turney took other steps to streamline processes in the city and to address the concerns of citizens. One of those steps was making himself accessible to the people of Ballinger, “The people can reach me anytime. They can email me, they can call me or they can just show up at my office. I welcome their input, ideas and questions. We’re accountable to the people and they have a voice,” Turney says. Additionally, Turney can be heard on KRUN radio on Tuesdays in a segment of the Jeff and Landy show called, “Tuesdays with Tommy.” The segment is on the air as well as on the station’s Facebook Live broadcast. Listeners can either call him with questions and comments or they can post questions on the Facebook Live feed.
One key initiative was when Turney helmed a comprehensive safety program for city employees. Turney says that the program includes safety meetings every Friday morning where they discuss any near-misses that may have occurred during the previous week, “If there has been something like that, we talk about what we should have done differently to avoid problems in the future. Additionally, it helps identify trends in problem areas; for instance just the other day one of the guys mentioned that they were almost hit by a car while working on a street. It’s our fourth report of an incident like this. It seems to be a trend so we will concentrate on roadway awareness and making this a topic that we discuss often to keep our guys aware that it is an issue that we really have to watch out for. We are also looking at adding a defensive driving class for our employees. We want the city employees to go home to their families every night so safety is a very aggressive program that has been added.”
The first area Turney addressed shortly after taking office was the condition of the streets and roads. He started by improving drainage along 13th street and removing Ballinger’s infamous, “13th Street Dip.” Turney also applied for grants for roadwork and has so far been successful, bringing in approximately $275,000 for repairs. He’s also worked with the city council and brought a grant administration company on board to help with grants.
Another step Turney took was to initiate a new city payroll system. He replaced the old handwritten time sheets with a more efficient computerized system. It’s helped a great deal with payroll and keeping track of overtime.
Those are just the first of a laundry list of improvements Turney has made. Other improvements include:
Bringing onboard a collection agency for collecting outstanding city utility bills and court fines. Presenting updated financial reports at all city council meetings. Reviewing and updating the city employee policies and procedures handbook. Partnering with the probation office (CSCD) to have probationers help beautify the city while on community service. Working to bring in a painter to help paint murals around the city. Creating greater transparency into city operations, city budget and other matters concerning the governing of the city. Installing new water lines and new taps throughout the city. The water department is replacing old lines and old taps, improving the quality of water the people of Ballinger receive. Many of the lines were decades old and some homes experienced poor water pressure and water quality due to partial blockages of water because of narrowing of lines over time. Entering into a partnership with Dorothy Dankworth to repair the Plaza Fountain. The work would have cost the city $10,000 but Mrs. Dankworth offered to pay $5,000 while the city will cover the other $5,000. Finalizing the water contracts with Abilene and Millersview/Doole. Conducting the first city-wide cleanup in 3 years. During the cleanup the city accepted tires, shingles and other construction materials along with the usual household items and furniture. Tires had not previously been collected. “We needed to collect the tires. In the spring and summer they fill with water and mosquitoes use them as breeding grounds. It’s a health concern,” Turney pointed out. Improving the efficiency of the water department and street department. There was a time when the street department was used for such mundane tasks as setting up tables and chairs at various settings when they could have been working on the streets. The streets department is no longer pulled off of work for tasks such as that. Creating a work order system to track work being done. At each city council meeting he briefs the city council and the community on the work orders that they have completed and the ones that still need to be completed. Conducting the first capital assets inventory since 2006. Developing a tagging system for all capital assets. Initiating an airport survey that has now been completed to enter into an agreement with TXDoT aviation. Under the maintenance agreement TXDoT will pay 50% of all repairs at the airport, even down to the cost of a light bulb. TXDoT will also pay 90% for construction, such as if a new hangar is needed or a new runway is built. Bringing in a CLD instructor to train city employees so that they can obtain a CDL license for operating city trucks. Improving relations with city employees. Creating the new city recycling program with Jack Watkins. They’ve received $14,500 for recycling equipment and will be pursuing another $6,000. Watkins has headed up the initiative and done a superb job of getting the program off of the ground. That is a busy 5-month period by any standard but Turney and the people of Ballinger have seen the positive impact of his leadership, “We’re changing how the city is perceived by the public. We want to improve our response and provide excellent customer service. We work towards that every day.”
Turney’s first few months are due for review by the city council. The review was originally supposed to be conducted after his first 90 days but due to the issues facing the city it was put on hold.
With the business of 2018 now being wrapped up, Turney keeps an eye on the future. He’s been instrumental in bringing the city’s systems current and adding credibility to the city governing body. Turney’s proactive approach has ensured that the city continues to move forward and listens to the citizens of Ballinger. He has not allowed any peripheral issues to take his attention away from his duty to Ballinger. Turney worked well with the city council and has strong support from members of the council.
There have been times at city council meetings where he has mediated disagreements between citizens and various city departments. He consistently keeps the council updated on the business of the city and his level of transparency is unprecedented in the city.
Turney has tracked city spending, worked to beautify the city and worked to repair the streets and roads. His approval rating his high and the fruits of his labor can be seen no matter where you drive or look in the city.
Most of the current city council members had positive comments regarding Turney’s work. Councilman Jason Gore commented on Turney’s work, “Tommy has been doing a great job in the last 5 months. He stepped into a vacancy that was about 10 months old and he hit the ground running without missing a beat. I'm looking forward to having Tommy around for a long time to come.”
Long time councilman Bob McDaniel has served alongside 5 of Ballinger’s city administrators over the years. He has a great deal of insight into the working of the councils over the years and the work of the administrators in particular. McDaniel has high praise for Turney, as he relayed in an email to the paper for this article:
“As a councilman, I have served under five City Administrators and some of those used their positions to benefit financially at the expense of the taxpayers. I have seen it firsthand. Tommy Turney is an honest, hardworking, accessible, Christian family man who has long called Ballinger his home. Tommy has a vision for Ballinger and has the town and its citizens close to his heart. He truly cares. In the past there have been those who couldn't wait for the next photo op, for the next opportunity to rub shoulders with someone they thought might advance their careers, for the next Texas Municipal League meeting in a distant town, those meetings that cost the taxpayers in meals, motels, and travel expenses. Tommy is a stay at home, community oriented, down in the trenches City Manager. During the hiring process there were those applicants with their impressive degrees in city management. To some they may have been, on paper, more qualified than Tommy but in my heart I felt then that Tommy was the man for the job and that endorsement remains as strong today as it was then. Ballinger is truly blessed to have him as the City Administrator.”