Hinesville public works contractor OMI has a new director slated to take the reins from current Director Gregg Higgins. Guan Ellis joined OMI on Feb. 10 and is expected to take over in May.
“We’re doing a transition right now,” Higgins said. “We’ve got about a 90-day transition period. After that, he’ll be the new director.”
Ellis is a civil engineer who comes to Coastal Georgia from Atlanta. When Ellis first was introduced to city-council members last month, Higgins joked that he would teach Hinesville about dealing with snow storms while Hinesville would teach him about dealing with mosquitoes and sand gnats.
“Right now, I’m meeting all the political folks — the mayor, city-council members,” Ellis said. “Hinesville is different than Atlanta, but that’s OK. I came from a small town before I worked in Atlanta, where I was the assistant director (of public works) and chief engineer for Fulton County. I was also the project manager for capital improvements.”
Ellis said he’s spent most of his career with private businesses, designing roads and doing “those things a civil engineer does.” He said working in a military community will be new to him, but he has completed projects near Fort Campbell, Ky. His definition of public works centers on the word public. If citizens have good streets; clean, safe water; and they’re “able to flush the commode,” the public-works department is doing its job, he said.
He acknowledged that a part of public works involves dealing with politically motivated requests. He has experience dealing with requests to do things that were not ethical and possibly not legal.
“There were times when I was asked to look at something that was not right,” Ellis said. “When I explained why I couldn’t support something from an integrity perspective, it was understood why it couldn’t be done. I’ve found it’s best to explain things. Be honest up front, for that’s the best way to go. Then I just let things fall where they will ... You can’t make everyone happy.”
The same attitude works when dealing with the public, Ellis said. He knows he’ll get calls from residents this summer who’ll complain about mosquitoes in their neighborhoods. He said it’s important to keep the communication lines open and just “let them vent.” When they’re done, he said he’ll then explain the limits of what the public-works department can do about mosquitoes, some of which are hatched in containers in the yards of the same people complaining. You have to have tough skin in this job, he said.
Ellis lost his wife to cancer two years ago, and spoke fondly of the things they used to do together, including traveling. Having grown up on a farm in Tennessee, he said he likes hunting and fishing, but he has developed a love for golf.
“I plan to just listen,” Ellis said of his immediate goals as director. “If needed, I may make some gradual changes. I’m just looking at how things are done now. I always look for ways to make improvements, but OMI has been here a long time, so obviously, they’re doing some things well.”
Higgins said he’ll go back to being a regional director for CH2MHILL. He plans to stay in Hinesville and work on several projects as far away a Central Georgia.
“I’ll still live here, but I’ll probably travel a lot more,” Higgins said. “I’m tired of moving.”