When speaking in public and in interviews, Warren Hutmacher chooses his words carefully. He often shows little emotion when discussing his work. But, as he prepares to leave Dunwoody after more than five years as its city manager, Hutmacher enthusiastically describes his tenure as “a fantastic experience.”
“The opportunity to work on a start-up city was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hutmacher said. “I enjoyed the challenge.”
Hutmacher, Dunwoody’s first and so far only city manager, resigned last month to take a job as city manager of the larger city of Johns Creek. He begins work in the Fulton County city April 28.
For Hutmacher, a 40-year-old career city administrator who previously held city manager jobs in Norcross and Avondale Estates, the Johns Creek job is a “great career move,” Dunwoody City Councilman Doug Thompson said. “I absolutely hate to see you go,” Thompson said.
Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis agreed. “I’m disappointed to lose you,” he told Hutmacher on March 24, when the city manager announced his plan to resign.
Yet during his time in Dunwoody, Hutmacher has drawn plenty of criticism as well as praise. During recent City Council meetings, residents have stood at the central podium and called for his resignation or firing. He has been quick to say that their criticisms are not the reason he decided to leave Dunwoody.
In fact, he says he considers the criticism just a part of the job. “Somebody gave me a quote a long time ago: ‘If nobody’s reacting to what you’re doing, you’re not doing anything,’” he said. “If you’re taking a pro-active approach to problem solving, it’s going to make people angry…It doesn’t make me angry at all. It’s a public job. They have the right to say what they think of what I’m doing.”
Still, he describes the vitriol expressed by some of his critics as a low point of his time in Dunwoody. “I was a little discouraged by the tactics,” he said. “Some of the discussions … got personal, and not just with me.”
Hutmacher’s City Hall office is sparely decorated. Photos of his young daughters and his diplomas on what he calls his “ego wall” dominate the room. A pair of colorful crayon drawings by his children lay on a corner of his desk. A few touchstones of city government appear here and there, including a “city manager” baseball cap he says he’s never worn and a framed piece of pavement dug up during the city’s first paving project.
In a chat this week, Hutmacher said he took pride in establishing what he sees as a customer-service-centered government in Dunwoody, and in creating a series of plans that will direct the young city in coming years. The city government has developed plans for a variety of services and communities, including transportation, parks, sidewalks, paving and the development of the Georgetown and Dunwoody Village areas.
“We really have set up all the major areas of interest,” Hutmacher said. “We have plans that are community-driven and that council can choose to follow. We’ll make adjustments over time, but it was important to me…” He paused to choose the proper words to capture his thought. “I think it’s good government to measure twice and cut once.”
He believes the city’s work installing the infrastructure described in those plans will attract new investment to Dunwoody.
“We’re making basic investments in infrastructure,” he said. “We’re taking the community’s plans and implementing them. The things we’re doing are blocking and tackling: sidewalks and paving. This is baseball and apple pie. We’re not building arts theaters and golf courses. We’re investing in basic infrastructure.
“If you look at areas across metro Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S., when you see a lack of investments in infrastructure, you don’t see investments by the private sector.”
And as he prepares to leave Dunwoody, he argues the city’s direction is “only up.”
“I think there are a number of projects in progress now that will have significant effect – all driven from the community’s plans,” he said.