Newaygo County Road Commission Manager Kelly Smith was honored on the occasion of his retirement at the regular meeting of the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday January 22.
Smith began his career at the RC in 1985 when he hired on as a driver and heavy equipment operator. From there he rose through the ranks to become Manager, a leadership postition he has held since 2001.
Personally, I have known Kelly for about 15 years having met him through my media work, initially at the Times Indicator and in more recent years as part of Near North Now.
In the news world one is often asked to interview people in positions within government organizations or services to get information on this or that in an effort to shine a little light for readers, adhering to the old adage that sunlight is the best of all disinfectants.
Some folks are a bit less than forthcoming to say the least. This is likely due to being cautious about being misinterpreted or being hesitant toward giving out info that might not be well received by those they serve.
Then on all too rare occasions you encounter someone in one of these positions who are straightforward, forthcoming and accountable when things have gone awry.
Kelly Smith falls into this category.
When I would arrive at his office at the RC he welcomed me in and answered my inquiriess with candor and honesty. If there were problems he would discuss them, if new iniatitives were coming down the pike he shared the reasons behind them, and if situations arose that created conflict with the RC mission of delivering quality service to the people of our county he was never hesitant to call out the sources of his frustration.
The Road Commission is one of those entities that draws complaints because of the nature of the job they perform. Someone’s streets aren’t being plowed in a timely manner, work being carried out isn’t perceived to be done correctly and of course there is always the occasional mailbox issue. It’s the nature of the work and the nature of many folks to complain.
Kelly recognized it was their right as taxpayers to grumble about perceived shortcomings of the organizations work and he saw it as part of his job to listen to these complaints and comments and resolve the issue when he could.
And most of all he understood clearly the power of collaboration. Under his leadership and with the backing of the 3 member Road Commission ( Bill Gonyon, Doug Harmon and Lou Meeuwenburg) the organization has worked with cities, townships, and a variety of county offices to increase efficiencies and contain costs to the citizenry. These efforts allowed tax dollars to be stretched rather than spent and projects resulting from these initiatives are part of the RC legacy under his direction.
Kelly also recognized the importance of succession planning and with the approval of his board he brought forward someone he trusted and who, like him, came up through the ranks. Since then he has helped mentor him on the nuances of the job once he knew retirement was in the near future.
This past year when transitioning from editor of N3 to taking a seat as one of the members of the County Commission my contact with Kelly changed as my role in interacting with him took on a different context.
And yet I found him to be the same person he was when we would sit in his office answering my endless questions with patience and openness.
Rest assured the NCRC is being left in good hands as his successor Derek Wawsczyk has the ongoing support of the Road Commission Board and inherits the competent crew who populate the office, the garage and the roads. Meanwhile Kelly will be able to spend more time pursuing his passion for bracket racing with the help and support of his wife Pam.
But personally? As one who has known Kelly as a media rep and later on as a county official?
He will be missed.
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