ELIZABETHTON — One of the reasons Jon Hartman is not in law school right now is because he listened to a Milligan College professor.
Because he listened, Hartman is probably the youngest director of planning for a Tennessee city.
Hartman became interim director of planning for Elizabethton after 28-year veteran David Ornduff retired Sept. 30. He hopes to perform well enough in the next few months to have the interim part removed from his title.
“I had hoped to move up, but I wasn’t expecting everything to just fall in place they way they have,” Hartman said as he sat behind his new desk last week. The desk held some projects he is working on for the city and some work he is doing as a student of the master of public administration program at East Tennessee State University.
“My mom is very excited. She said ‘I am really proud of you,’ ” Hartman said with a smile.
Before his graduation from Milligan in 2009, Hartman had no thoughts of directing the planning department at Elizabethton. He came to the college from Northwestern Ohio, near Toledo. As he pursued his degree, he thought he might become a lawyer and as part of that career objective he thought he might want to take an internship with a law firm.
It was while he was considering a law career that Milligan professor Mark Peacock gave him some advice that changed the direction of Hartman’s life.
“I told him I was thinking of a summer internship with a law firm and he asked me if I had any other interests. I had an interest in local government and it had entered my mind that I might like to be a city manager someday,” Hartman said.
Peacock told Hartman he should make absolutely sure he wanted to go into law. After hearing the advice, Hartman decided to apply for an internship at Elizabethton City Hall. He was selected as a summer intern by then-City Manager Russell Treadway.
While he was at the city an unusual event happened. The City Council fired Treadway. While looking for a new city manager, the council installed City Attorney Roger Day as the interim city manager.
Day continued to handle the city’s legal affairs and continued to operate his private legal practice. Day found Hartman useful and soon the young Milligan student was assisting Day with all sorts of city manager work.
Hartman was learning a lot about city government. When Fred Edens was hired as the city manager, he said Edens asked him to continue helping the city during Hartman’s senior year at Milligan.
Then Hartman graduated. He soon learned that Ornduff was looking for a community planner to work with him in the Elizabethton Planning Department.
Hartman now had a real position with the city, but it turned out his internship was not yet over.
In addition to his work in the planning department, including developing a new parks and recreation plan, Hartman was asked to assist Finance Director Larry Clark, who was busy with several other duties including the consolidation of the electric department. With Clark so busy, Hartman was given some big projects.
“I did the city budget,” Hartman said.
For the past several months, Hartman has been preparing to take over the Planning Department upon Ornduff’s retirement. He said Ornduff has helped him, offering him many comments, suggestions and words of advice.
Hartman said one of the things Ornduff told him was “don’t be too quick to rush into something, but don’t be the last to let go.”
Finally, October came and Hartman took over the corner office that Ornduff had held ever since City Hall was built. His first week has been just as hectic as all of the other weeks in all of the other roles he has held in Elizabethton.
Hartman said Monday was spent just getting organized. Tuesday was the meeting of the Planning Commission, which is always a very busy day for the Planning Department. On Wednesday, he prepared for his class at ETSU.
Hartman said he does not have any major projects he is trying to accomplish during the next three months of his interim period.
“It is really a very narrow window. I am going to see where everything is going. There are some amendments we are working on and some ordinances we are going to review.”
He will also be working to complete some major projects he inherited from Ornduff, including the final stage of the Riverfront Linear Path and renovations to the Covered Bridge.
“I am excited to begin,” Hartman said. “I am looking forward to working with people and meeting people. I am hoping the Planning Commission and I can work together to move Elizabethton forward.”