Bettering the community

SAC CITY – Adam Ledford spends much of his time on public projects that people may never notice.

As city administrator for Sac City, Ledford is in charge of maintaining the city’s infrastructure – the gas lines, water lines, sewers – that people tend to ignore unless something goes wrong.

Fixing and maintaining is a good job for him, Ledford said; it lets him go home every day feeling like he made a difference.

“I’m a fixer-upper. That’s what I like to do,” Ledford said. “I like to get my hands on needs and focus on them, particularly things that need to be fixed.”

Ledford has been city administrator for about six years, but he hadn’t always planned on this career.

“Like most people I got my bachelor’s degree, and still wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do with my life. So I went to law school,” he said.

Later, Ledford’s interests were drawn to municipal government-related activities. He met an old friend who was working as a city manager and discovered that job sounded appealing.

“That’s how I got into the field, and that’s how I ended up in Iowa,” he said. “We were living out in Washington, and we got this idea that we wanted to move back to the Midwest, because all our families are back here in the Midwest.”

Ledford grew up in southern Illinois and has lived, worked or gone to school in Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington state.

He said the little town of Sac City is much better for raising his son Charlie, now 5 years old.

“Where we were living out in Washington state, it was not a safe place to take your kids to the park,” he said. “You had to worry about your kids after school.”

Ledford said all towns, but especially smaller towns, do whatever they can to survive on as small of a financial means as possible.

“To do so, often we don’t keep up the maintenance we’ve needed to over the decades. I’m not talking about Sac City, I’m just talking about rural America in general,” he said.

“As a result, you look up one day and your sewer lines through town are 90 years old, your water lines are 70 years old, your storm sewers are integrated with your sanitary sewer system – and what you do have is not in very good shape.”

But Sac City has put a lot of money into fixing this problem over the last few years, including about $7.5 million on sewer system projects, half a million dollars in improvements to the water system, and around $100,000 for the transmission system and testing equipment for natural gas, Ledford said.

This year, they also spent about $480,000 repairing and relaying the asphalt sections of what used to be U.S. Highway 20 running through Sac City.

Management of that road was transferred to the city from the Iowa Department of Transportation at the end of 2012. The money for repairs was paid to the city for that transfer of ownership.

A job in the public sector is not always without controversy.

“If there isn’t some controversy or some edge to the things you’re doing, you’re probably not trying hard enough,” he said.

In fact, it can sometimes be a hard job.

“Especially when a city manages utilities, you deal with a lot of collecting bills. You are given the task of enforcing city code. A lot of times you’re the one telling people no, or telling them they have to fix something or they have to change something,” he said. “So it’s a hard job to make friends at.”

Still, he enjoys it.

“I’m able to go to bed every night and wake up every morning feeling like, being here, I have made a difference in this community,” he said.

Ledford explained how one of the city’s recent projects showed how little changes can make a big difference in an area.

The pump on the fountain near the city office wasn’t working, and instead of just replacing it, the department decided they should add a few extras while they were at it.

“So they came up with the idea of putting some benches around the fountain, some flower displays around the fountain, and I think eventually, in the next year or two, we’ll be putting some new shade trees around the fountain as well,” he said.

Before, people didn’t pay any attention to it. But now, Ledford said, “I believe this summer we probably had 150 to 200 people – while we were working in the office, we’d see people stop, and bikers jump in it, or little kids, parents putting little kids in it. Not that we would support doing those things, but we don’t necessarily shoo them off when people are using it in that fashion.”

Since this was a small project, the city used an unusual funding technique. Instead of raising funds and interest first, they made the improvements first and asked if people would want to sponsor different parts. So far, only one piece of equipment is left that still needs a donor.

“So it was a very small project, in terms of city funds. I bet we had less than $3,000 in the entire project ourselves,” Ledford said. “We got a lot of very happy comments about the fact that not only had we fixed it, but we had done more than that. We had improved it.”