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Owens: Celebrating an unsung civil servant

Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez announced last week that Marty Johnston would be named as the chief operating officer for the city of Savannah.

In the announcement, Hernandez said of Marty, “Ms. Johnston’s tenure with the organization, professional experience, skills, and personal capabilities make her well qualified for the position.”

Of course, that is absolutely true, but there is so much more to this sometimes-unsung civil servant that I wanted to take a few moments and share with you here.

You may find it difficult to find Marty in her office. In fact, you’ll likely find her with our fellow citizens: trouble shooting problems and finding solutions that often lie in compromise and stem from her enormous wealth of experience.

Marty can be found shoulder to shoulder with the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department on the streets at 3 in morning during the St Patrick’s Day festival. You’ll find her meeting with the Downtown Business Association, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Waterfront, the Tourism Leadership Council, City Market, during the day, on nights, and on weekends. She seems to defy any sense of regular hours and certainly she displays no concept of “banker’s hours.” Rather, she works as long and a much as the task requires for it’s very best result.

Marty has a passion for our community that it sometimes not blatantly obvious in other civil servants. She has been an indispensable advisor to our civic government, civic organizations, and to me both professionally and personally.

It was a little more than five years ago when I met Marty, working on a Tall Ships Festival coming to Savannah in 2012. She was solutions-oriented, and had this uncanny ability to strike a perfect balance between rules and regulations and the needs of the citizenry.

Ever since that first meeting, I have never once seen her lose her cool. She’s the voice of calm and level-headed when she’s presenting in public meetings to mayor, city council, neighbors, and business owners. She is fair, pragmatic, and honest.

On top of the things we expect from a civil servant: professionalism, dedication, and integrity, Marty has something else that is so refreshing to see. She has commitment. This makes her extraordinary.

She doesn’t leave work at her desk, she takes it with her, to the people and projects she oversees. Through her approach to life, she inspires others.

Loving our city sometimes comes with a singular view, “no one can love this city as much as I do.” I don’t often buy that. We all love this city. However, I can see in Marty’s action and tenure with the City that she truly does love our city from behind the curtain — quietly working for the people of Savannah.

In her new role, she will be responsible for providing key operational direction on behalf of the city manager and managing the day-to-day operations of key business units. She will oversee the City’s programs and services relating to customer service call center; special events coordination and film permitting; human resources; financial services, including purchasing, accounting, risk management and revenue; information technology; fleet services; and real estate services.

But, please don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself. Spend time with her, and get to know the newest chief operating officer of the city of Savannah. I know you’ll be just as impressed with this unsung civil servant with a committed heart to serve.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, a non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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