Wednesday, June 30, 2010

St. Augustine Record; Harriss heads into retirement with warm wishes -- Friends, colleagues praise leaving city manager's service, big heart

Posted: June 30, 2010 - 12:08am


Today is the last of 9,416 working days for St. Augustine City Manager Bill Harriss, but he had few words for the 200 friends, colleagues, former mayors, city commissioners county officials and law officers who packed the Alcazar Room at his send-off ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

"While I appreciate that all of you are here, I've tried to keep the city's interests first," he said. "That's what's important."

That's it.

After 25 years working for the city, 12 as city manager, those who know him accepted Harriss' dislike of "fru-fru stuff," as he calls emotional moments.

He received many hearty cheers for his long, dedicated service, plus the Florida Distinguish Service Medal presented by Brig. Gen. Don Tyre of the Florida Army National Guard.

Mayor Joe Boles served as master of ceremonies of the "momentous occasion," and said the food was selected from menus and restaurants that Harriss liked and noted the many gifts Harriss had received.

He said, "Thank you, Bill Harriss, for 25 years of service to St. Augustine." With an impish smile, Boles told the audience, "I'm sure he'll have those thank-you notes out in a few days."

Vice Mayor Errol Jones said he had worked with Harriss for eight years.

"We're really different camps in some areas," Jones said. "But we acknowledge that and move on. I respect his forcefulness and strong will. For the people of St. Augustine, I say, 'Thank you.'"

Commissioner Don Crichlow, who decided not to run again, said Harriss helped every new commissioner learn how the city runs.

"He always says, 'It's your decision.' He knows how to handle commissioners. He took the city from junk bond status to the highest rating there is. We are in great (financial) shape. I don't feel like I'm losing a city manager. I feel like I'm gaining a friend and a golf partner."

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline said Harriss was like a big brother to her. "He has a huge heart," she said. "He can be gruff, blunt and not always tactful. But you always know where you stand with Bill."

One of the gifts to Harriss and his wife was a three-night stay in Asheville, N.C., a state they love.

St. Johns Sheriff David Shoar said Harriss had wanted to learn about police work since 1985, the year he came to work as the city's financial manager. Harriss also served as a reserve sheriff's deputy for years.

"Now that he's retired, I'll make sure he has a traffic post during the Easter and Christmas parades," Shoar joked.

Another gift was a round of golf at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for him and three friends.

"I wouldn't have had the opportunities in my career if it wasn't for him," Shoar said. "He's one of those rare intellects who can not only design a bridge but also build it."

Shoar gave Harriss an award making him St. Johns County's first honorary sheriff.

Former Assistant City Manager Jack Cubbedge, now retired, worked under Harriss and presented him with a print of City Hall taken in 1890, made from a glass plate negative.

"We were not a one-horse town when Bill got here," he said. "You can actually see two horses (in the picture)."

Other gifts include a brick from the city's brick streets, an old radio that once was in Harriss' car, a city parking meter made into a piggy bank, a city park bench, and one of the 120 Spanish flags flown over the city on April 1, 2001, during the visit of King Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.

Harriss' daughter Jennifer, 35, said her father "always raised us to make our own decisions and that we pay the consequences for what you choose. He has a very big heart."

To her father, she said, "We're glad to have you back to ourselves. You're not retiring from us."

Harriss also received a Keeper of the Gate Award, a sculpture of the St. Augustine City Gates.

Incoming City Manager John Regan said the keeper of the gate protects the city where it is most vulnerable.

"Everything you have done has protected this city," he said. "I aspire to be the husband, father and son that you have shown us that you are. You have had a noble vision for 25 years."

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