Having settled into his new role for nearly one month, Etheridge has already begun to bring his own flavor to the city manager’s office. He has been busily working with the city council to create departmental budgets and is al-ready planning on revitalizing the city’s equipment and personnel studies, which will hopefully lead to standard-ized equipment maintenance and replacement schedules as well as updated wage standardizations for city employees. And more often than not, he is to be found in his office in city hall, ready and willing to talk to any concerned citizen or group.
“When I’m here, the door is open,” said Etheridge. “I’m willing to talk to anybody. We won’t necessarily agree, but as long as we’re talking and the communication’s there, that’s the important part.”
Etheridge has a great deal of experience working as a city administrator and planner, beginning with a master’s degree in public administration he earned while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
After leaving the Air Force, instead of doing contract work like so many other former military personnel, Etheridge decided he wanted to work in the public sector.
“I started out in planning. I did economic planning for Martin County, Florida, for a short period of time, then was the city planner for Destin, Florida.”
After being recalled to active duty for Y2K, Etheridge came back to Georgia to work as the planning and devel-opment director for Camden County for three years, then moved up to northeast Georgia as the building and plan-ning director for Habersham County. More recently he has served as the planning manager for Jackson County and, before coming to LaFayette, he worked as the first-ever city administrator for Pembroke, Ga.
The Georgia native grew up in a military family and was originally drawn to the Air Force in order to see and travel the world, but he eventually returned to his home state.
“My dad’s family is out of the Concord/Dublin area, but he was in the Army, so we traveled with him and then came back to the States. I claim Liberty County and Hinesville as my home.”
Etheridge was first drawn to LaFayette because, he said laughingly, “We wanted to come north of the gnat line again.
“LaFayette offers a lot, not just in general government. It has a good recreation program with good facilities. It has an airport and golf course ... and a lot of natural resources.”
Etheridge hopes to make good use of LaFayette and Walker County’s natural beauty. Many of the hobbies he en-joys with his family, such as hiking, biking and canoeing, involve the great outdoors.
But despite the beauty, Etheridge has been quick to spot some of the sticky areas in LaFayette’s management, and hopes he can help remedy them in the near future.
“I’ve been here almost a month, and I think the biggest issue is that we really are on a tight budget, and making sure that everyone stays within the budget that we have approved. I know we all would like more, but … it’s tight, and there aren’t any reserve monies to grab back and reach. The city has not raised millage rates and there’s no other way to get it, so we’re going to have to live within what we have.”
He has noticed that most of this year’s budgetary requests, as in previous years, come from the need to maintain or update city vehicles or equipment that have become damaged or fallen into disrepair.
“We’re going to try to formalize a capital equipment improvements plan, coming up with a rotation where the general pieces of equipment should or should not be rotated or mended after so many years of mileage,” he said. Barring accidents, the plan should help maintain a stronger budgetary standard with fewer surprises.
In addition, Etheridge has noticed that it’s been quite a few years since LaFayette has inspected or updated its personnel studies, specifically its list of city employee job descriptions and wage standards.
“The natural course is over time you start getting away from those things, your job descriptions aren’t quite what people are doing today. So we need to look at updating those to make consistent what our folks do. And number two is looking at the wage structure itself, too, to try to put everybody in the same skill set on the same pay ... Right now if you look, one person may be here, paid this, and the other is not. So we’ll try to build some consistency back into that.”
Etheridge notes that city employees who were hired many years ago have often not had their pay rates altered to be commiserate with the wages of more recent hires, even those within the same job description or skill set. He hopes to eventually change all that and create fairer and more standardized pay for all city employees.
Etheridge is looking forward to the results of the city council elections, which are Tuesday, and is optimistic that he can easily work with whomever is voted into office.
“Yeah, we all have personal opinions, but we wish them all the best, and good luck with whoever wins. You know, they set the policy and we do the day-to-day activities.”
In the meantime, Etheridge is keeping himself busy getting to know as many of the local LaFayette business own-ers as possible, hoping to establish a rapport that will facilitate communication for all involved.
“I’ve been trying to get out and get to the various businesses. I haven’t made them all, but I want to go at least in-troduce myself and talk and get to know people.”
Hometown: Liberty County/Hinesville
Education: Bachelor of arts degree in geography from UGA, master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University
Military service: Over 12 years of active duty service in the Air Force, three years as a captain with the U.S. Air Force Reserves
Hobbies: Hiking, walking, canoeing, biking, reading
TV shows: “NCIS,” “Big Bang Theory”
Favorite books/authors: Suspense, mystery, Janet Evanovich, Stephanie Plum, John Grisham
Family: Married with a daughter, age 26 and son, age 20
To meet Frank Etheridge or to voice any questions or concerns, visit the city manager’s office in LaFayette City Hall or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.