Valdosta Daily Times

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March 27, 2013

A man of many hats

Martin opens up on community development

VALDOSTA — Taking charge of the Community Development Department for the City of Valdosta may take a man who is comfortable wearing many different hats, but Director Mike Martin has a hat rack full of them.

The CDD oversees three different divisions that contribute to the same cause: to ensure that buildings and developments are built according to planning and zoning ordinances and kept up to code.

Under the CCD, Martin manages Community Protection, responsible for ensuring compliance with city codes and land use ordinances; Development Services, responsible for inspections and all other aspects of construction; and Planning and Zoning, responsible for good stewardship of community growth.

Any given day, Martin may speak with and direct building inspectors, zoning administrators, city marshals, contractors, business owners, homeowners, or builders, and he must respond with knowledge, patience and fairness.

"You have to have a different hat on each time somebody calls," Martin said. "The key is hiring good people. When you get them educated and trained, contractors get to know their inspectors and they establish a relationship. They work really well together, and they do a really good job."

Martin began his career in construction in Fitzgerald working first as a contractor and then as a man-of-many-hats for the City of Fitzgerald. He was hired when he was 26 years old and began work as a city marshal, a permit clerk, a building inspector and a zoning administrator.

"It was a small town," Martin said. "It didn't have near the development Valdosta does, but it was an excellent opportunity to learn. It gave me, one person, the opportunity to get really involved and get my feet wet."

During his 12.5-year tenure with the City of Fitzgerald, he pursued continuing education programs through the University of Georgia, the Building Officials Association of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Zoning Administrators.

"Lots of continuing education," Martin said. "And I had a chance to attend all of those meetings and get heavily involved in both organizations and served all through the chairs and through the presidency. So I got my education. In 2000, I was elected by my peers as Building Official of the Year. I've earned all this gray hair I'm wearing on this head."

Martin came to Valdosta in 1996 when the zoning department oversaw both City and Lowndes County development. As head of zoning, he was able to take advantage of construction being at an all-time high, he said.

"They were building things left and right, and the money was flowing," Martin said. "It was like stirring up a hornet's nest. We were fortunate in being able to hire additional staff and personnel where it was needed, and we started building the department."

About eight years ago, Martin took the job as Community Development Director, and was placed into greater responsibility when the City and County zoning split in two, and the City Manager re-organized the departments under two different Deputy City Managers. The re-organization allowed Martin to inherit the city marshals.

"We work together," Martin said about his colleagues in other divisions, such as Neighborhood Development. "When they do work, we have to go out and inspect it."

Over the past eight years, Martin has thrived, but as a self-made man who "grew up in construction" and became a leader in many roles, Martin's most difficult job is delegating responsibility, he said.

"I had a standard, and I wanted that standard to continue," Martin said. "I wanted it to be done the way I wanted it to be done. But you never can enforce your opinion."

While building standards are in place by law, Martin wants those working under him to maintain the same attitude toward people that he does, making it a priority to be fair and understanding.

"I wanted to treat the customer as if it were my mother or my grandmother," Martin said. "If we could make it happen, we did. If you couldn't, you try to make them understand why. The hardest thing was to trust the staff to do the job the way you think it should be done. They have to see you trust them."

But with the proper training, Martin has built trust in every member of his staff, he said.

"One of the first things I told the group when I came here is, 'I'm not your boss; I don't want to be anybody's boss. I'm part of the team,'" Martin said. "I'm just the leader of the team. I'm here to give you direction to do your job. It's a lot like being a teacher."

Martin plans to keep his job until retirement, and he doesn't plan to retire any time soon.

"But you never know," Martin said. "Opportunities can knock at any time."

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