Local news reporters at Historic City News received word today that, after a quarter century of service to the City of St. Augustine, William B. “Bill” Harriss will retire this summer.
Harriss, who has been City Manager since 1998, will make a formal announcement to the City Commission at its next regular meeting on April 26.
Harriss began his career with the City of St. Augustine in 1985 as the Financial Services Director bringing with him over a dozen years experience in finance management and accounting for the private sector.
Prior to his appointment to the position of City Manager, Harriss served as General Services Director and then Assistant City Manager under Joe Pomar. Harriss was appointed to the position of City Manager upon the retirement of Pomar.
As the city’s chief executive officer, the City Manager is responsible for the administrative management and delivery of all the city’s services and programs. As such, it is critical for the city manager to have a working knowledge of every aspect of municipal operations. Harriss often credits his coming up through the ranks, and in particular through the financial side of government, as his best source of that working knowledge.
“Since my first day with the city I have been involved with the numbers, the financial side of everything,” said Harriss, adding “and there is no better way to understand how something works than by understanding how it is financed.”
Known for being in the field more than his office, wanting to see firsthand the day-to-day work of city crews, Harriss has had the opportunity to preside over challenges and witness successes. Perhaps because of his training as an accountant, he points to the nation’s continuing financial crisis and its effect on small, local governments as one of the biggest challenges.
“How do we continue to deliver the same or higher level of service to all our constituents without having the cost of those services become a burden? That is the everyday, every hour question a city manager has to ask himself, staff and ultimately the city commission,” said Harriss. “And in St. Augustine, because of who we are, the Nation’s Oldest City, our level of service is higher than other cities our size and our revenue source is limited because of a high percentage of exempt properties.”
“The challenge is unique and ongoing, but I have been very fortunate to work with a team of professionals who are not just committed to their work, but are committed to their work for St. Augustine,” said Harriss.
It’s not surprising that Harriss would point to a financial related achievement as one with which he is most proud to be associated.
“I recall when St. Augustine’s bond rating was so low the risk was worse than junk bonds. We had a lousy credit rating. But over the years through nothing more than living within our means, spending money wisely, and saving when we could, this city now has the highest possible rating, said Harriss. That means that the best in the business say we are financially sound.”
Among other accomplishments during his time as city manager, which Harriss describes as “having the privilege to manage and see to completion” are:
• a well planned expansion of water service with a steady increase in the number of utility customers, the opening of a new reverse osmosis water plant, and the installation of two new water mains under the Matanzas River to serve Anastasia Island’s needs and increase firefighting capacity;
• construction of facilities to replace aging ones including a fleet maintenance facility, central warehouse, solid waste facility, main fire station, new financial services center developed by remodeling the former fire station, and a rehabilitated Visitor Information Center and construction of the adjacent Historic Downtown Parking Facility which serves over a quarter million vehicles a year;
• creation of a community redevelopment agency to fund the city’s ongoing challenges related to traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian and including signage and parking, whose dedicated funding source relieves that commitment from the city’s residential property owners.
The city manager is one of three positions, along with city attorney and city clerk, hired directly by city commission action. The process for seeking and naming a replacement for Harriss has not yet been discussed by the commission.
Harriss is a native of Florida having grown up in Okaloosa, Brevard and Volusia Counties. He is a graduate of the University of West Florida where he received his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Accounting with a minor in Finance. He has been a resident of St. Johns County since 1985 and is a reserve deputy with the St. Johns County Sherriff’s Department.
Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph by City of St. Augustine administration