This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In 1968, if someone would’ve told Kenneth “Kenny” Roberts that he would be city manager of Barnesville, he wouldn’t have believed them. At the time, Roberts was 16 and working for the city’s recreation department cutting grass and picking up trash at the community center. But, as he transitioned to other positions in the city including an electrical lineman, electrical superintendent and the director of public works the idea of becoming city manager became much more of a reality to him.
During his time as city manager, Roberts has led several monumental projects including the clearing of a hazardous landfill, an upgrade to the city’s water delivery system and firefighting capabilities. Roberts also oversaw the build of the new, $2 million Central City Park, which was built at no debt to the city through community support and grant and reserve funding.
Former Barnesville Mayor Jimmy Matthews praised Roberts for his problem solving abilities, innovative way of thinking, enthusiasm for economic development and unique gift with several musical instruments.
“He managed disaster relief like it was a ballet,” Matthews said as he remembers Roberts’ strategy, expertise and leadership during the July 4, 1994 Tropical Storm Alberto. Over a 24-hour period, this storm delivered 26 inches of rain and destroyed Barnesville’s dam. “Kenny was determined to stop the leak [in the dam]. He organized city, county and community members—he stayed out there tirelessly day and night,” Matthews said. “To watch him manage and keep things moving with no confusion was admirable. Kenny calmed and handled the residents like no other.”
But Roberts’ refuses to take all of the credit for the successful projects and city development—he emphasizes the use of both internal and external partnerships and teamwork in each project he remembers.
“Though it may sound trite, I’ve found that in order to be an effective manager I have to know and understand the great contribution that every staff member gives to this operation,” Roberts said. “It’s only when I can appreciate everything that they do, that they learn to respect me as a manager.”
He continued, “Sometimes the opportunity is missed by some managers. While they know the operation is out there, they may not understand the contribution and sacrifice that most of the utility and public works staff make.”
Roberts said while real-life experiences have been advantageous learning lessons over these past five decades, so has cross-training and teachings from various organizations. His involvement include serving as past Chairman of the Barnesville/Lamar County Industrial Development Authority, and a member of the Joint Industrial Development Authority of Henry, Butts, Spalding and Lamar counties, the Joint Development Authority of Upson, Pike and Lamar counties, and the Georgia Finance Officers Association.
“Better training means better service from local government,” Roberts said. “The expanded elected officials training and certifications has led to better meeting the challenges and practical problems mayors and council members are faced with.”
For this 2015 Lamar County Outstanding Citizen of the Year and GMA Hall of Fame Inductee, all of the successes and leadership roles come back to one thing: the love he has for his community—Barnesville.
“I’m committed to this community and I’ve decided to make it my home and my career,” Roberts said. “I am blessed to have the support of the community and the governing body for all of these years—I wouldn’t trade that for anything else.”