After seven years with the City of Cleveland, including one year as city manager and six years as finance director/assistant city manager, Bobby Pennington announced on Tuesday that he is resigning. He plans to take a city management position in the Houston area.
“This is an opportunity that I need to take for my family, to be close by where we live,” Pennington said. “I know my resignation will come as a shock to the community, the mayor and the city council.”
Pennington plans to stay on until Jan. 15. He will use the next month to create a transition plan for the interim city manager and future city manager.
“The objective is to give this transition plan to the incoming city manager, mayor and city council. This transition plan will be a roadmap and will include all of the capital projects, all of the major developments within the city and any status reports, programs and assignments that are outstanding,” he said.
When Pennington started as finance director and assistant city manager in 2014, Cleveland was facing major financial challenges caused by limited cash flow. The city’s coffers were short with just enough funding to cover 25 percent of its annual expenses. Today, the city has the capability to cover 85 percent of its annual expenses, which Pennington said it “unheard of” for most cities.
“We have cured that issue. I now have Finance Director Leslie Herrera and Management Analyst Savannah Cunningham helping with that. They are financial hawks and are an asset to the organization,” Pennington said.
Pennington says the next city manager will need to be ready to lead the city through the next stage of development.
“Development is key here. I really want the council to select someone who has lengthy experience in development, as far as creating the right kind of growth here in Cleveland. We have a water and wastewater facility that will be coming online that is part of the BNSF Railroad facility,” Pennington said. “I see the west side of Cleveland developing rapidly in the next 5-7 years. It’s key for that city manager to have the right kind of development. That city manager will need to work with BNSF to make sure we can acquire the right kind of industrial jobs – jobs that will help with more rooftops and retail and commercial development, which everyone wants to see.”
As he looks toward the future, Pennington also is reflecting on some of his accomplishments in Cleveland. Among these accomplishments is the creation of tax increment reinvestment zones that enabled the Grand Oaks Reserve and Pinewood Trails communities to flourish.
“Those were critical developments to ultimately attract higher median incomes to Cleveland. That, in turn, will allow us to keep our property taxes low,” he said. “We also have doubled the Cleveland Municipal Airport operation by adding 40 new T-hangar units since 2019 and added a fuel farm that allowed for jet engine fuel to be sold. We also just received the final design of the runway lighting project. We are expecting to kick off that project soon to improve the runway lighting. That is a partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation.”
Pennington also points to a decline in employee turnover as a sign that the economic outlook for Cleveland has improved. Instead of offering non-competitive salaries and benefits to employees, the City can now compete with its neighboring cities.
A new city manager will hopefully pick up where Pennington leaves off, helping to oversee the completion of a million-dollar street improvement project that is currently underway, the rehabbing of the city’s two existing water towers and the completion of a new water tower on the west side of the city.
“The new, 500,000-gallon water tower will be completed before the new Northside Elementary opens next year,” he said.
Pennington believes that Cleveland is on the pathway for success and growth.
“I wish nothing but success for Cleveland. I believe I have made a difference. I hope I have,” he said.
Mayor Richard Boyett, who has found a friend in Pennington, joked that he plans to keep Pennington on speed-dial, just in case.
“I think he has done a fantastic job. I think an opportunity presented itself and he just couldn’t turn it down. I think the world of Bobby and I want the best for him and his family,” Boyett said. “I have been through this situation before, several times in fact, and I know it will take the next city manager a little time to get up to speed. It takes six months to a year, even with the best candidate in the world, to get familiar with Cleveland.”
The City will likely hire an executive search firm that will assist in the advertising and recruitment of candidates. In the meantime, the executive search firm will help the city appoint an interim, Boyett said.