Former Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards saw the city through three decades of change before his recent departure amidst controversy.
Edwards negotiated a severance agreement with the city council that was accepted on Aug. 17. The career public servant will officially end his tenure on Sept. 12. Edwards voluntarily resigned and the city acknowledged that he “was not terminated for cause,” according to the agreement.
In a phone interview with the Courier, Edwards expressed appreciation to Hinesville’s residents for allowing him to serve them.
“It was a blessing and an honor for me,” he said.
Edwards began his career with the city on June 12, 1978, as deputy city clerk, just six days after he graduated from college.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve brought the city in 39 years and three months,” Edwards said. “We’ve seen difficult financial times and unparalleled growth.”
The former city manager pointed to providing infrastructure for growth — including roads, water and sewer, drainage, wastewater treatment and public buildings — while keeping the city “in sound financial condition,” among his achievements.
Edwards added the city has a fine staff of dedicated professionals.
“I’m proud of the people I had the opportunity to work with,” he said.
Edwards could be considered a hometown boy, though his family is originally from North Carolina. He moved to Hinesville when he was in 8th grade. Edwards graduated from Bradwell Institute and then attended Middle Georgia College in Cochran and Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.
Edwards and Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown share a common history.
“When I was in college, Allen Brown was the city administrator,” Edwards recalled. “I needed to do an internship as part of my study in public administration. I asked Allen if I could do an internship under him and I did.”
Before Edwards graduated, he put in his resume. By then Brown had moved on.
“I served as deputy city clerk for six months. I was promoted to city manager in January 1979. As the city grew, the responsibilities of the job grew,” Edwards said.
Edwards travelled over the summer and now plans to “take time to sort things out” before determining his next move.
“There are some opportunities out there,” he said.
Edwards has family in Hinesville and intends to “stay put.”
Several community leaders praised the former city manager.
“Billy Edwards did an awesome job of serving our city for 39 years,” Brown said. “Billy had great vision and always knew the answer to difficult questions and situations. Billy may well have been the best city manager in the state of Georgia. He will be missed by our city and our citizens.”
Edwards served the city under six different mayors, according to Brown.
“In general, he was the impetus to help make our city grow the way it did,” the mayor said.
Former Mayor Jim Thomas described Edwards as “a go-to guy.”
“Many of the accomplishments we have in the city belong to Billy because he did the work,” Thomas said. “They (city managers) are deserving of our respect,” Thomas said.
Former Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliff wrote the following about Edwards in a letter to the Courier posted online Aug. 21:
“His leadership has taken us from a community of 4,000 in 1970 to a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) of over 77,000 people and a city now approaching 40,000 people. His dedicated service, through good times and not so good times, has been exemplary. A more balanced or calmer hand could not have guided this ship of state than his. In my eight years of service with him, I never heard him raise his voice to anyone, whether a customer of the city, an employee of the city, an elected member of the city council or even a mayor.”
In a phone interview, Ratcliff said the city received dozens of accolades under Edwards’ leadership. He listed the creation of Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority as proof of the city’s progress during Edwards’ tenure, as well as the city’s recognition as a City of Ethics and Hinesville’s receipt of numerous Community of Excellence awards presented by the United States Army.
Edwards was a member of the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System/Workers Compensation Self-Insurance Fund Board through the Georgia Municipal Association, and supported the formation of the Military Affairs Coordinating Committee, according to Ratcliff. The former city manager also oversaw such projects as the construction of a new city hall and a second fire station on Airport Road, Ratcliff added.