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Retiring city public works director reflects on service
Dockery says, 'This has been a great place to work'
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David Dockery, public works director, talks about his career at the city public works office Thursday at the Administration Building in Gainesville. Dockery will be retiring after working for the city for 25 years. - photo by Erin O. Smith

David Dockery’s corner office gives him a wide view of downtown Gainesville, with its busy streets and other infrastructure that have provided him job security for the past decade.

After all, as public works director, his job has called for helping to ensure paved streets, smooth sidewalks and synchronized traffic lights.

But after a 25-year tenure, including 15 years in the city’s Environmental Services, the 51-year-old White County native said he is “really looking forward to the next phase of life.”

“This has been a great place to work. I really love the people,” said Dockery, who is retiring this week. “I’m just ready for different challenges.”

The job he is leaving had its own struggles, mainly dealing with dwindling finances during and as result of the Great Recession, when he took over the post.

“I would have loved to end saying we completed this big project and that big project, but there hasn’t been that much money over the last seven years,” Dockery said in an interview Thursday at his offices in the city’s administration building off the square.

“We’ve largely been in a maintenance mode — keeping the roads paved, the potholes fixed, the trash picked up — but not really any major transportation initiatives.”

Dockery did point to completion of a master transportation plan in 2013 as a big step forward for Gainesville.

“That will guide the direction of our transportation and infrastructure improvements for a decade,” he said.

Dockery’s career with Gainesville ends in a much different way than it started.

He had just graduated from the University of Georgia in 1991 with a master’s degree in fisheries biology with an emphasis in aquatic toxicology, and was looking at environment-related jobs at Gainesville and the University of North Georgia.

The city hired him to begin a biological monitoring program.

“We would monitor the organisms that lived in the streams and the lake to see how our wastewater discharge was affecting that,” he said.

Five years later, he became the city’s environmental services administrator.

“That job entailed being over all the permitting and compliance issues involved with water and wastewater production,” he said.

After about 10 years in environmental work, “I was ready to do something else,” Dockery said.

The assistant public works director’s job came open, and he made the jump in 2006. He became head of the department in 2009.

“It was a pretty big transition for me,” Dockery said. “Public works is more of a nuts and bolts thing, being over areas of responsibility that were more hands-on, construction and task-oriented, that type of thing.”

A “learning curve” was involved in the new duties, but, looking back, he has no regrets.

“It’s nice to have a change every now and then,” Dockery said.

Next up for Dockery is getting more involved at his business, Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, and working as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ hunter education and shooting sports coordinator for Northeast Georgia.

“That is, to me, a fun retirement job,” he said of the DNR post. “... The job sounds like it’s really going to combine what I do in my off time.”

Dockery believes his successor, Chris Rotalsky, who has served as assistant director, is well prepared to take over his role.

“It’s like we’ve been co-directors the time he’s been here,” he said.

Rotalsky certainly is grateful for the opportunity.

“(Dockery) has allowed me to take an active part in all of the Public Works divisions and to manage my responsibilities with my own management style,” he said.

“I have enjoyed working with David for the last nine years and I wish him the very best in all his future pursuits.”