By: Robin Ford Wallace
In a surprise move at its regular April meeting Monday Night, the Trenton City Commission eliminated the position of Better Hometown manager, thereby giving walking papers to its longtime and energetic administrator Peter Cervelli.
The vote to axe Cervelli was 3-1, with only Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chuck Cannon dissenting. Commissioners took the vote after some half hour of executive session.
Cervelli, interviewed after the meeting, said he understood the city’s decision was an economic one. “I believe that’s their logic,” he said.
City Clerk Lucretia Houts confirmed that eliminating the position would save the city Cervelli’s yearly salary of $37,000 plus the cost of insurance.
But as fallout continued Tuesday morning, it became clear the city may also lose a lot of what made Trenton a “better hometown” to live in. “I don’t think Anthony [Mayor Emanuel] has the slightest inkling how hard Peter works with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission,” said John Shober of the Trenton Downtown Development Authority, of which Cervelli has always been the chief man on the ground.
Shober said that Cervelli worked extensively with NGRC and other regional, state and federal agencies on Trenton’s behalf and that lately he had been heavily involved in procuring the town Opportunity Zone employment credit status.
Ann Brown, also of the DDA, reminded the Sentinel of the local activities Cervelli had administered, including last weekend’s popular Easter egg hunt, which she said drew over 100 kids. “Peter always has been the driving force behind the DDA,” she said.
In fact, she and Shober both said that the DDA would probably cease to exist absent Cervelli, and without the DDA the Dade Chamber of Commerce might well decide to cancel this year’s Dade Heritage Festival.
Shober said the festival planning committee was scheduled to have met Tuesday afternoon and did not know what would happen then. “But the vibes I’m getting, everybody just feels like walking away,” he said. “Rome is burning.”
At Monday night’s meeting, Cervelli expressed no anger but admitted he was sad and disappointed to lose his job. “I was very happy here,” he said. He said he’d only been told about the move that day though he’d had suspicions it was underway.
He recalled that Trenton had become a Better Hometown City some years ago, with a part-time manager slot filled before he came by the Sentinel’s onetime editor Jewell Smalley. “Then the program fell into disrepair for whatever reasons,” said Cervelli. “It was reconstituted at the end of 2004 and that’s when I was hired as a part-time person. It became full-time eventually.”
A plaque outside City Hall proclaims Trenton a Better Hometown city as of 1998. The Better Hometown program is a statewide initiative aimed at downtown revitalization and economic development. One requirement for participation, according to the program’s website, is the employment of at least a part-time Better Hometown manager.
Mayor Emanuel said Tuesday morning he does not understand that is the case, but if so Trenton will no longer be a Better Hometown. He said the commission had decided to do away with Cervelli’s position as opposed to returning it to part-time because this is only the beginning of the city’s layoffs. “We’re looking at force reductions in every department,” he said. “Part-time isn’t going to do it.”
He said the city needed to cut spending by $20,000 a month and that personnel accounted for 80 percent of its expenses.
He said that the DDA was a freestanding organization that can and should continue its duties without Cervelli and that the activities he fostered had been in the past, and should be in the future, performed by volunteers. “If the festival depends on one person, that’s poor planning,” he said.
But Emanuel also acknowledged the brains and energy Cervelli had brought to the city and said the decision to eliminate his position was not based on performance but on sheer numbers. “It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it’s necessary,” he said.
Cervelli, who is also a Dade County commissioner for District 4, has until the end of the week to clear his desk at the city.
The affable Cervelli is a transplanted New Yorker who told the Sentinel he absorbed Dade culture – and Dade politics – by hanging out with the locals at the Rising Fawn Hardware Store. “I have never been a good old boy before,” he said memorably at a county commission meeting some years ago.
Cervelli said he will continue as a county commissioner. He is up for reelection this year.