As cities grow, their management needs can become more than a single city manager or administrator can address. This can lead to the hiring of assistants, additional leaders who can take over some responsibilities or major projects while also being trained to one day be a city manager or administrator.
Fort Mill Assistant Town Manager Chris Pettit understands the value of serving as an assistant before taking the reins in the top job. He served as an assistant in the planning department before becoming the planning director.
Chris Pettit serves as Fort Mill's assistant town manager. Photo: Town of Fort Mill.
A Fort Mill native, he now serves as the town's first assistant city manager and takes on the management of major projects, such as technology improvements for permitting, licensing and inspection services and for creating a new website. Working with all departments has not only broadened his experience, Pettit said, but also is what he likes best about his daily routine.
"My favorite part in this current position is my ability to cross departmental lines and work on things in multiple departments — having that variety throughout the day. I might be working on planning and building then go over to stormwater and I'm working on finance in the afternoon," Pettit said. "I think the variety of that is quite enjoyable and I'm interested in what they all do. I like to learn new things and this position really gives me that opportunity."
Giving someone that experience is part of the town's plan for being prepared for the future.
"Certainly over the last several years, the town has put a big focus on succession planning and trying to make sure that no one person, losing them to retirement or what have you, would put the town under," Pettit said. "That is something the town has been cognizant of and has started to put things like this into place, whether it's assistant town manager or assistant department heads to prep those folks for taking on the next responsibilities when that becomes available."
Pettit is interested in being a city manager one day, but that day is well in the future, he said.
"I have a lot of growth that I want to do before I would take that step," he said. "I appreciate the position I am in now because it gives me so much exposure, it does set me up well for one day taking that step."
While Pettit is not in charge of any specific area of the town's operations, some assistants take on key areas where they have expertise.
Michelle Dickerson served as an attorney in private practice before she joined the City of West Columbia as deputy city administrator four years ago. There is an assistant city administrator, Justin Black, who also serves as city treasurer.
Dickerson has specific areas of oversight: code enforcement, planning and zoning, the building department and economic development.
West Columbia Deputy City Administrator Michelle Dickerson has worked on
such projects as the all-inclusive Carraway Park. Photo: City of West Columbia.
"But that doesn't mean that I am only dealing with those departments on a daily basis," Dickerson said.
She also reviews contracts and helps write or revise ordinances because of her legal background, and she works with economic development, planning, zoning and building.
This teamwork approach helps the city "bring in the type of development we feel West Columbia needs and wants," she said.
"We do that with weekly almost daily meetings to make sure that we are all working together," Dickerson said. "We pride ourselves on eliminating bureaucracy and saying 'yes,' while holding our standards high."
That teamwork element carries over to how Dickerson, City Administrator Brian Carter and Black work together.
"We don't work in silos," she said. "We meet to make sure all our departments are a cohesive group.
"The three of us get along really well. We have the same work ethic and values and work to make West Columbia the best it can be."
One recent project Dickerson worked on was developing the city's Carraway Park, which is accessible to children and people of all abilities and which opened in fall 2019.
"Being a part of Carraway Park, building that park and watching our staff really work together to get that park done, has been one of my favorite parts of my professional life," Dickerson said. "This is a park that my children's children can come play in one day."
Leaving a legacy is a large part of the motivation for Walterboro Assistant City Manager Hank Amundson.
A native of Miami, Amundson said he and his wife, who is a native, chose to live in Walterboro precisely because of its size.
Walterboro Assistant City Manager Hank Amundson, right, worked with Nicole Holmes,
owner of downtown restaurant Carmine's Italian Trattoria, to help the business obtain an emergency capital loan and endure the pandemic. Photo: City of Walterboro.
"I didn't know that small towns like this existed," Amundson said. "I thought it was a fake thing that Disney World created for their Main Street."
Amundson's background was in golf course management. He had been a PGA professional at country clubs, including in Pinehurst and Charlotte in North Carolina.
"The reason I moved here is hopefully the same reason that a business or person would want to and that is to slow down and have time with your family, but still be productive and contribute. I feel like working for the city does just that," he said.
Since arriving in Walterboro more than a decade ago, Amundson worked with the city as economic development coordinator before joining the Lowcountry Council of Governments as director of workforce development and the area's agency on aging.
He rejoined the city nearly four years ago when the assistant city manager post was created. Because of his background, his areas of responsibility include economic development.
"That's what fires me up," he said.
He works across several departments to help new and prospective businesses find what they need in the city.
"A lot of the job is being a translator," Amundson said. "Water and sewer engineers speak a special language and they're very good at it and it's very specialized. Private business speaks a whole different language. I help get everybody in the room and help coordinate communications."
Amundson wears many hats and is responsible for planning, code enforcement, permitting, special projects, downtown development and tourism in addition to economic development.
"The fun part of the job and the challenging part of the job is there is no standard day," Amundson said. "It's not a desk job, it's not a construction job, it's not a management job, it's all those jobs."
In a way, he said, it is a bit like playing golf: "You come into work with a plan, then you adjust."