DALTON, Ga. - David Pennington has gained plenty of critics in his first year as Dalton's mayor.
Consistently saying that city government has grown too big and expensive and collects more taxes than most cities in Georgia, the mayor led a trimming campaign in 2008. Backed by the four other members of the City Council, the cutting ended with more than 40 government positions eliminated and a 2009 budget of $27.6 million that reduced spending by more than $4 million.
The economy was a significant factor, Mr. Pennington said, but Dalton's government also was bloated. He said he expected some people to criticize his efforts.
"If you're going to make changes, you better be thick-skinned," Mr. Pennington said Wednesday afternoon, just two days after the council eliminated four more jobs at City Hall. "When you're seen as the leader, you're going to be the target. That goes with the territory. It's not the most pleasant thing in the world, but it's not unexpected."
Whitfield County resident Retta Gavin, who works closely with the Dalton community and its fire and police departments, said she was supporter of the mayor, but said the cuts could prevent safety equipment purchases, result in fewer officers and firefighters and more danger for the public.
"I feel the mayor is cutting jobs and spending in the agencies that do not need cuts," she said. "Fire and police run on very efficient budgets, as they always have. However, the mayor is taking (from) the fire budget and police budgets - already thin budgets."
The City Council cut the fire department's 2009 budget by $200,000 and the police department's by $700,000.
Both interim Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield and Police Chief Jason Parker said they must look hard at ways to save money in the coming year, but neither said they expected a decrease in public safety or services. Former Fire Chief Barry Gober suddenly retired in October after nine years as chief, citing concerns about lack of funding.
Council backs mayor
City Councilman Charlie Bethel said people have the right to complain about their elected officials, but the mayor gets the brunt of the negativity because he's the city's most prominent official.
Councilman George Sadosuk said the mayor is unfairly criticized.
"The council is 100 percent behind him," Mr. Sadosuk said. "Many people do not realize that this (reducing government) agenda was agreed upon and approved by all many months ago. All in all, we feel the voters are behind us and the mayor."
Mr. Pennington noted that personnel decisions are tough for him and the council, but they're much tougher for employees that lose jobs.
"I don't blame the people whose jobs and families we are affecting (for criticizing me)," he said. "Their reaction is natural, but (the cuts) are something that has to be done."
At City Hall on Wednesday, the mood was somber as employees adjusted to most recent job losses. One worker took early retirement, while the other three will receive severance equal to 25 percent of their annual pay.
Renetta Cochran, a city accounting specialist who is keeping her job, said she doesn't criticize the mayor or council for the cuts.
"All changes and reductions are hard, but you have to look at the overall picture," she said. "Most of the time when management makes changes, it's for the business or the company to do better and eventually you as an employee will see that. But it's always hard at first because you know the (dismissed) employees personally."
Mr. Pennington said this year's slew of job cuts and spending reductions are part of the City Council's master plan to make the city more efficient, a plan that began early in 2008.
This year, the council also will look at more ways to save by consolidating services with Whitfield County, he said.
Dalton and the county reached an agreement in 2008 for the county to perform road paving for the city.