Our View: Hartmann’s legacy


In this era of spotlight-seeking celebrity wannabes, quiet competence is often overlooked. Most Alexandrians, if asked, probably couldnt identify City Manager Jim Hartmann. Hartmann, who excels at making things work efficiently and keeping a low profile, probably doesnt care.
Alexandria received a surprise on Monday when the well-regarded Hartmann announced he was leaving our fair city for warmer climes and a bigger challenge. In Alexandria, which has a city manager-city council system of government, the council members and mayor receive the most attention. Theyre the ones who turn up at ribbon-cuttings and funerals. As the elected officials, they are the ones in the spotlight and on the hot seat. But it is the city manager who actually runs the city on a daily basis.
When Hartmann became city manager after Vola Lawson, Alexandria had a reputation as being an anti-business enclave with antiquated processes. He then spearheaded the citys new transparency drive and made stakeholders inclusive in the actual decisions that affect them by making sure every discussion was not only open to the public, but also responsive to the public. He prioritized the citys massive budget in an effective way.
Another significant achievement was the culture change that Hartmann instituted at City Hall. His inclusive approach brought taxpaying stakeholders and public safety employees to the forefront of the citys conversation. Several significant public works projects were also completed on Hartmanns watch, including the new T.C. Williams High School. Mayor Bill Euille praised Hartmanns work, saying, He has collaborated closely with council and city staff to build an outstanding management team; successfully guided the city through economic difficulties; increased government transparency; implemented organizational efficiencies, and improved customer service.
Despite the many achievements, Hartmanns tenure has not been perfect. Alexandrias debt has increased enormously during the past six years, from $250 million in 2005 to almost a half billion dollars now. While the high school is useful, it was also extremely expensive. Then there was the ill-considered $15.3 million spent on rebuilding the Charles Houston recreation center, a nice but hardly vital project. In addition, city leaders, and ultimately Hartmann, were responsible for the poor internal communication that allowed the Norfolk Southern debacle to take place. (Lower level officials, without the city managers knowledge, allowed Norfolk Southern to set up a dangerous facility near a school and residential neighborhood.)
And yet, Hartmann worked to correct deficiencies of process and organization wherever he found them. After becoming aware of the Norfolk Southern situation, Hartmann made amends by making sure that every internal correspondence numbering in the thousands regarding Norfolk Southern was put on the citys website for the public to see. Such a move was unprecedented in Alexandria. In addition, while Hartmann has not completely eliminated Alexandrias reputation for being inhospitable to business, the process for opening a new business has been simplified. 
Hartmanns operating style efficient, shrewd, transparent and inclusive may not win him fame. But it has certainly improved Alexandrias reputation. Its easy to take someone like Jim Hartmann for granted. It will not be so easy to replace him.