Bartlett retiring from city
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 28, 2012 1:46 PM
A lot has changed since Neil Bartlett began his career with the city in 1978.
Only days from his Dec. 31 retirement, he said when he started out as the athletics supervisor for Parks and Recreation fresh out of college, the department was concerned mostly with facilities.
Beginning in the 1980s and continuing throughout his 17 years directing the department, he said Parks and Recreation began to shift its focus to programs and people, which was fine by him.
He said his years at the helm of two of the city's largest departments -- he has been director of Public Works since 2007 -- have taught him to value the people he's met and worked with throughout his career.
"That's what we're here for," he said of citizens. "If it wasn't for them, (his departments) wouldn't be needed."
From the kids he worked with on the fields and courts early in his career to the letters from citizens thanking his divisions for fixing potholes, he said the humanity of public service was most memorable from his decades of work.
His dedication to the city was also what led him to leave Parks and Recreation to assume the leadership of the city's Public Works department, previously General Services.
His transition began when he was placed on the assessment panel to interview candidates for the city's fire chief vacancy in 2007.
After making a hire, then City Manager Joe Huffman made a half-joking comment about his next charge.
"Now if we can find a general services director ..." he said, to which Bartlett, half-kidding himself, said "I'll do it."
A few hours later, Huffman called Bartlett to ask if he was serious and the more the two talked, the more he considered changing departments.
"I told him I'd consider it," he said.
Before long, Bartlett was filling the city's void by leading 130 employees and six divisions, handling buildings and traffic maintenance, the municipal cemetery, the municipal garage, sanitation, streets and storm sewer maintenance and distribution and collection.
There was a lot to learn, he said, but he again leaned on his people skills to better lead.
"When I first came over I made a conscious effort to spend at least six months learning," he said.
After that, the emphasis shifted to improving what the city had, keeping in mind that he should continue to learn form those employees already in place.
Dealing with hurricane cleanup, Bartlett reveled in the ease with which departments came together.
"They all pitched in and did what they had to without complaint," he said.
And even when he has to deal with complaints -- generally from citizens -- he said he takes them in stride, especially since they're generally balanced out by thank-you cards, although those are rarely publicized outside of his office.
After retirement, he said he's looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren, fishing and traveling, but won't forget his time with the city anytime soon.
"It's been a heck of a ride," he said.