For Warner Robins Mayor Havrilla, it’s business as usual

WARNER ROBINS — Warner Robins Mayor John Havrilla has been taking meetings with people from city department heads to state officials, tackling issues from the location of the new police complex to how much money the mayor is actually supposed to earn.

In his three-month stint as the city’s mayor, he says he hopes to offer a smooth transition for his successor in early January.

“What I’ve had to do is figure out what do I have to do for this organization ... to be effective so that it is postured as best it can be for whoever comes in on the fourth of January,” Havrilla said. “There’s a lot of things going on in the various areas of the city. We’ve tried to keep projects moving. We may not get to the goal line with all the projects, but. ...”

Havrilla, 63, was a city councilman and mayor pro tem when he was thrust into the city’s top job Sept. 28 after then-Mayor Donald Walker committed suicide. Havrilla had gone to work that morning at ARINC, where he’s a government contractor. He took the job this year — the same year he decided not to continue with public office. Since he’s become mayor, he’s had to scale back his time there to give more attention to running the city.

“I had to make arrangements in my own personal life,” he said. “I’ve done that and ARINC has been very helpful, very gracious and understanding of my situation. It’s great that I had an employer to allow me to do what I’m doing.”

He spends many mornings roaming City Hall, talking to workers and greeting residents as he comes in contact with them. Most of his time, he says, is spent dealing with issues such as the location snag for the new law enforcement center.

He said a letter sent to state officials seeks to determine whether a government grant used to construct tennis courts near Jimmy Perkins Memorial Field means the courts can’t be torn down. The council had voted in August to use $4 million from a water and sewer SPLOST to cover the additional cost of the building. That idea’s now been all but rescinded, with utilities officials coming up with water and sewer projects that will be funded with that money.

Then, there’s also the issue of the mayor’s salary, which Walker brought into question in September. He told council members in a closed meeting that they hadn’t correctly raised his salary to $100,000 in January 2008. The council is seeking an opinion from state officials to see if the salary needs to be cut back to $50,000, its former rate.

“I’m just being a caretaker ... and trying to get each of the departments down the road as far as we can (for the new mayor),” he said.

Thomas Simms Jr., one of the remaining five City Council members, said the thing about Havrilla as mayor he appreciates most is the fact that he’s continued where Walker left off.

“He was given a big responsibility ... and has taken the reins and is doing what I think needs to be done to continue the foundation that has been in place for some time by Mayor Walker,” Simms said. “Havrilla’s similar to Walker in that he’s straightforward ... and he’s accomplishing uniform procedures so as to make it easier for the new mayor and the three new City Council seats.”

Havrilla has a long history in Warner Robins politics. He served as a City Council member from 1976 until 1992, when he ran for mayor, forgoing a re-election campaign. After his loss to Walker and Ed Martin, he took a hiatus until he was elected to serve again on City Council in 2005.

Whatever he’s doing, Havrilla has etched himself in the city’s history as its 12th mayor, not counting Henrietta McIntyre, who served for more than a year as the city’s acting mayor after Ed Martin was forced to resign, or Clifford Holmes Jr., who served as acting mayor while Walker was out for 70 days on a medical leave forced by the City Council.

“I was down here for 16 years ... before Mayor Walker became Mayor Walker,” Havrilla said. “There was an awful lot of stuff done. We had good mayors, good council people. There was an awful lot of activity and there’ll be an awful lot of activity to come in the future years. What I’ve got to do is get the city people focused on the institution and what our obligation is on a daily basis. The taxpayers pay our salaries, and we have an obligation to do our best on a daily basis.

“We have an obligation ... not to individuals, but to the institution.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.