Seven months into her new role as the city manager of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Molly Huhn is looking to prioritize the revitalization of the historic area, but above all, she said she wants to tackle the needs of the community. And she realizes she doesn't understand them all just yet.
Huhn, who was born in Chattanooga, spent years working for the city of Savannah's purchasing department, took a hiatus to be a stay-at-home mom, then returned to the city and served as a project manager overseeing the construction of a $165 million arena.
But she felt the tug to move closer to home and family.
She began applying to jobs in the Chattanooga area and was hired in August 2020 as Fort Oglethorpe's city manager after the departure of Jennifer Payne-Simpkins, who left for family reasons and a new job in late 2019.
When Huhn was first selected for the position, she committed herself to spend her first six months in office just listening and learning, she said, rather than trying to make wide, sweeping changes.
"You have to be respectful of everybody who's here already and who knows how the community works, who know all the people," she said. "I'm simply an outsider, and I have to earn that right to make changes."
While starting a new position in a new town in the middle of a pandemic has been a surreal experience for Huhn, it has offered her a bit of a grace period, as the whole world has been slowed. Instead of immediately being pulled in a bunch of different directions, she has been able to focus on getting to know the city and the staff, she said.
"This organization has so many people who've been here 10, 20, 30, in some cases 40 years. You just don't see that in a lot of places, and they're so talented and smart and know the city inside and out," said Huhn. "The staff is really personable and professional and community-minded and I am very, very grateful to be working with them.
"As far as the mayor and council, they've been fantastic. They are extremely supportive, they trust the staff, and they know this community very, very well. And so that has been wonderful to see in action, too, because that's not always a given."
One of her main priorities moving forward is to focus on revitalizing the historic areas of town and helping people see that there is more to Fort Oglethorpe than one might think.
"We should really emphasize what an interesting little town this is," she said. "It's not just a bedroom community or anything like that. This is very much a community that is interconnected and cares about people and has long-term residents who have been here their whole lives."
Her plans include providing support to historical areas of the town, a prime example being the continuation of a project to improve the streetscape along Highway 27, for which the city has secured a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation since Huhn came on board.
"I've learned from the staff and from the community that there were a lot of projects already going on that sort of are going to carry us in a direction that I think is a really positive one," she said.
As she continues in the role, Huhn said she wants to continue taking everything one day at a time while getting to better know the area, and listening will always be a part of making the city better.
"[It's] small incremental things that make people's lives better every day just somebody's calling because she's upset about feral cats," she said. "And that's really what government is at its best — it's just trying to solve problems for people.
" There's no consistency to the calls I get; it's just different every day. But to be able to help people and listen, I think, is really important."
Contact Tierra Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.