Smyrna town manager retires after almost 15 years

SMYRNA — When contacted for an interview, Delaware State News caught Smyrna’s former town manager, David Hugg, in his home two blocks from city hall with his fireplace roaring and a cat in his lap. It’s safe to say his retirement has started.

Mr. Hugg, who’d served as the manager for nearly 15 years, had his last day on Dec. 27. Gary Stulir, the town’s finance director is the acting manager until the city council can hire a new permanent one.

“Unless they have someone they’re talking to, they’ll probably open up for a regional or national search for an applicant,” said Mr. Hugg. “Milford’s town manager who was hired almost a year ago was the product of a national search.”

The 74-year-old retiree recalls that the town didn’t have to look far when he was hired on. A Milford native, Mr. Hugg did a fair share of bouncing around during his education, but found his way back to the Dover area. Around 2000, he and his wife Jaci were living in Smyrna. When the position of town manager came up, Mr. Hugg’s neighbor Len Rippa, who was vice-mayor at the time, convinced him that he needed to apply for it.

“Len conned me into it,” Mr. Hugg joked.

Former Smyrna town manager David Hugg remembers gathering with the city council, mayor and other organizations to help convince the owners of The Painted Stave that Smyrna was the right place to open their business. He was thrilled when it worked, because a new use had been developed for an old historic building that might have been torn down otherwise, he said.
(Delaware State News file photo)

Just before taking the position, Mr. Hugg had come off retiring from 32 years with the State — working mostly as a coordinator in the state’s planning office. He’d been teaching co-currently at University of Delaware for 14 years as well, so when he retired he became an adjunct professor and policy scientist there. However, being the town manager in his hometown was too attractive a prospect to ignore.

“It seemed like a really good opportunity to take all the things I had learned about, done and taught others to do and actually apply them,” he said.

Looking back over his time as the city manager, he said he’s always tried to live by the mantra: leave the place nicer than you found it. Among some of the standout accomplishments he feels that he’s been a part of are the upgrading of water services and electric utilities, building of a new public works building, new police station, the planning of a new library and more.

“We were able to extend the water and sewer north and south of town to allow it to grow in a reasonable way,” he said.

He’s quick to mention that it was a team effort though.

“None of the accomplishments I look at as just my own,” he said. “I had a wonderful staff of people, great public works department and terrific engineers.”

One of the things he’s proudest of is what he sees as the revitalization of downtown Smyrna. He recalls being told that “downtown is dead, spending money there isn’t worth the effort”. After seeing a number of new innovative businesses move in, he’s confident in saying that it most certainly was worth the effort.

In particular, Mr. Hugg celebrates the joint effort launched to convince The Painted Stave to move into the downtown area.

“The mayor, the council, the downtown development group and everyone else all got together and threw a cocktail party for the guys who wanted to open the distillery because we all really wanted this to happen,” he said.

He said the display of support must have been convincing, because it won them over.

“It was awesome,” said Mr. Hugg. “They used an old historic building that might have been torn down otherwise. It’s hard to use an old movie theater too because of the sloped floors.”

Although he wished sometimes during his career that there were more funds available for parks and recreation projects like trails, Mr. Hugg said that infrastructure is really the most important responsibility of a town manager.

“Any town similar to Smyrna is going to have a lot of old and aging infrastructure — that just has to be the priority,” he said. “Everything has to work right.”

With high hopes for the future, Mr. Hugg looks forward to watching the town continue to move down the positive trajectory it’s on. For instance, he’s encouraged that the water and sewer extension the town was part of that now reaches to the Smyrna Rest Area will make that stretch of Rt. 13 a more attractive corridor for potential businesses wanting to move in. Joking during the beginning of his career, he’d often say that Smyrna was just a “little town on the side of the road where not a lot was happening”.

“That’s not the case anymore, we’ve created this sort of buzz almost,” he said. “With the distillery, the Blue Earl Brewery, the Brick Works restaurant and with Sheridans — all of a sudden we became this happening little place.”

Mr. Hugg does offer a bit of advice for his would-be successor:

“It’s a 24/7 job and you really have to commit yourself to doing the town’s work every hour of every day,” he said. “Things go bang in the middle of the night and a snowstorm never comes at a convenient time.”

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