Palestine names new city manager after interim stint

Published on Saturday, 9 November 2013 23:28 - Written by By Betty Waters blw@tylerpaper.com

PALESTINE — Upon becoming Palestine city manager, Wendy Ellis began tackling five goals she and the city council have set.

The council recently signed Ms. Ellis, 37, to a three-year contract as city manager with an annual base salary of $93,000. She served three months as interim city manager and almost four years as economic development director.

Ms. Ellis said she is “very honored and very excited” about succeeding former City Manager Mike Ohrt, who resigned to become city manager in Wills Point. The Palestine City Council asked her to step in as interim city manager and later appointed her as city manager long-term.

Mayor Therrell Thomas could not be reached for comment.

“Moving over here (to city hall) in the interim position and seeing how employees have responded to the opportunity to try some new things was inspiring to me,” Ms. Ellis said.

“This is an exciting time in Palestine. We are poised for a lot of growth because we have the large Sanderson Farms project coming in and a number of other smaller projects happening. It’s a great time to be here and I feel very fortunate to be involved with it.”

Improving customer service is one of the city’s goals, Ms. Ellis said.

“Our employees provide good customer service, but we want to improve our image and our relationship in working with our citizens. We want them to know that we are service providers and we take that responsibility to them very seriously,” she said.

“We are going to be working on staff training and improving our technology to make sure our staff members have the right resources and tools to be able to provide the best service that we can for our citizens.”

Beautification is another area the council wants to focus on, Ms. Ellis said. City officials plan to look at how run-down areas can be spruced, how abandoned or dilapidated areas can be cleaned and how neighborhood programs can be implemented to revitalize some areas.

In addition, the city is looking at how it can fund major capital improvements and prioritizing projects, Ms. Ellis said.

Addressing the city’s aging infrastructure will be an emphasis. She said not only repairing and maintaining the water and sewer infrastructure, but also looking at growth, how to improve it and keeping the infrastructure in condition to serve citizens.

Being financially sound and making good decisions while being sure the city is transparent and planning for the future are other goals, Ms. Ellis said.

“We are not just looking at this year’s budget, but looking at three years, five years, 10 years and 20 years down the road as we lay out bigger projects,” she said, noting one of the challenges the city faces is a limited budget.

“Our staff has been very tenacious about watching what they are doing and trying to cut expenses and working with what they have and doing the best they can,” Ms. Ellis said.

The city will work to maximize the use of the resources it has, Ms. Ellis said, observing that Palestine is a diverse community with a lot of resources.

A real estate committee will look at what property the city owns, whether it needs to own it, looking at ways of getting property back on the tax rolls and into the hands of private developers or private residents, Ms. Ellis said.

“We have an abundance of water rights. We have a lot of natural resources available to us. Are we maximizing these resources and are we protecting them for the future?” the new city manager asked. “That’s going to be another big-ticket item we are focusing on.”

When she stepped in as interim city manager, Ms. Ellis met with the various city departments and employees, explaining she was going to make decisions and do whatever she could to improve even though a lot of people in an interim position are hesitant to make any major decisions.

Ms. Ellis said she did not want the city to be idle because she was in an interim position. She saw it as an opportunity for employees to show what they could do under her leadership and an opportunity for the council to see how she would function and manage if she were city manager long-term.

“If it hadn’t been a good match, and if the council hadn’t liked what it had seen, then we would have all known,” Ms. Ellis said.

“It was an exciting interim period because we did make some changes and we moved some responsibilities around and we opened things up for staff members to bring ideas to the table and we were able to implement them.”

Because of her approach during the interim period, her appointment as city manager has not meant as much of a transition as it might have otherwise, Ms. Ellis said.

Ms. Ellis said she enjoyed serving as Palestine’s economic development director prior to becoming interim city manager. She also has worked as the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce’s tourism and Main Street director, Brady Chamber of Commerce’s executive director of economic development and tourism and as a marketing specialist for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

She has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a master’s degree in agriculture education from Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

“In the positions I’ve had, especially here (in Palestine), I’ve been able to be a liaison between the business community and the government side of things and I understand both perspectives,” Ms. Ellis said.