Steward of public interest keeps water, power moving
Jim Briggs, Georgetown’s Assistant City Manager, often jokes with his staff that “we’ve done our job well whenever we’re ignored.” Since 1986, Jim has been involved with the city’s public utilities, and it’s okay with him if his department falls off the radar—that means that the community has confidence in his team’s ability to shepherd the city’s water, electricity, waste, roads, and transportation needs. Jim says, “It seems odd, but our intent is to be ignored to the point that people take it for granted that when they flip on the lights, there’s power, when they turn on the tap, there’s water.” Jim, however, takes nothing for granted as he navigates the challenges of managing utilities for a growing city.
While he started in utilities as a field engineer, Jim’s role with the city has changed significantly during the past 26 years. He’s gained more responsibility as first transportation and later waste management came under his leadership, along with overall city management. Jim explains, “As I became more involved with operations of the city and because of my knowledge of municipal operations, public financing, and project management, today I do a whole lot more management and long range planning than I did in years past.”
For almost two decades now, Georgetown has earned a reputation as a city that has seen tremendous growth in population and size. However, Jim remembers a time when our city’s growth was decreasing. He recalls, “When my wife and I first moved here in 1986, the city population was over 12,600 people. Shortly after that, we had an economic downturn in the late 1980s, and over several years, about a couple thousand people left and the population in Georgetown dropped.” A few years later, the economy shifted again in the opposite direction as Austin became aggressively involved in semiconductor and computer businesses, creating new jobs. Jim’s experience of opposite shifts in population trends prepared him for an ever-changing city climate.
Jim really does love working with utilities, for good reasons: “That’s what I know, it’s my background, and there’s no shortage of issues or challenges.” Jim genuinely enjoys working with the people in his department, and he’s impressed daily by their commitment and service to the community. “Their work ethic and the level of excellence and competency within the organization make it much easier to deal with the stress and daily complexities of the issues that we work with.”
The ability to deal with complex systems is particularly important because Georgetown is one of 72 cities in the state that owns and operates its own municipal electric system. Jim says, “Operating an electric system makes us a lot different than a lot of other cities because we have to buy and sell power. It’s another little thing that makes Georgetown special.”
In fact, last year was the 100th anniversary of Georgetown’s electric utility. The original power plant was located where the police station now stands. Today we purchase power off the grid through private companies like LCRA and American Electric Power.
Not only does Georgetown’s utility system serve most of Georgetown, but it also provides services to areas of Round Rock, including the Tanger Outlet Mall, Scott & White Medical Center, and many of the new developments in that area. Utilities are one way that Georgetown generates revenue. Jim explains, “The general fund of Georgetown gets a percent of the sales that come back in return out of all the revenues generated from the utility,” which helps to subsidize the tax rate. In fact, Georgetown has “one of the lower tax rates in the area because of that transfer from the utilities.”
Jim’s goal for the department is that “during times of very aggressive and expansive growth and stressful situations in the community, at the end of the day, utilities and infrastructure were not something that people had to deal with. They got taken care of because they were well planned.” It’s important to him that, during his time with the department, he has earned a reputation for being fair in his judgment and fair in how he treats others.
Outside of work, Jim is a loving husband, an energetic dad, a loyal neighbor, and a genuine friend. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural engineering from Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the nationally famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He has plenty of amusing stories from his marching days and is still close to members from his corps outfit. While Jim’s family hails from just outside of Calvert, he and his wife, Janna, chose to raise their two kids, Jamie and Kathryn, in Georgetown. The family is deeply rooted in our city and community.
At his core, Jim is a steward of public interest, a man with a servant mentality who has deeply invested in making Georgetown the city it is today. Jim says, “It’s always the people that make a community special, not buildings and physical elements, but the people that make up the community. Georgetown is full of wonderful and caring people. That’s what sets us apart from other communities.”
By Meredith Morrow
Photos by Todd White