Some time, somewhere, they should put Jeff Easter’s name on a building. After all, his fingerprints — and his heart and soul — are already on so many.
Easter, 61, retired this week from his position as General Services Director for the City of Huntsville. Since 2007, he’s been involved in more than $200 million worth of projects, “all of them under budget, and on time or before time,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.
General Services, with a staff of 120, holds one of the larger umbrellas in city government. Underneath are fleet and facilities management, construction and maintenance of City structures and properties, custodial services and the purchase and maintenance of vehicles.
There are some 1,700 pieces of equipment in the fleet and upwards of 150 buildings and structures, a majority of which must run 24/7, unlike a typical office space.
And – drumroll here – there is $153 million of construction work on the books for the next couple of years, initiated by Easter and his team.
He definitely has left us a legacy that’s a credit to his vision as a director.”
Easter’s retirement day was Wednesday, Jan. 31, and was marked by a reception in his honor at the General Services offices where more than 200 friends and fellow employees dropped by to pay tribute.
“What’s amazed me most is the way the community has reacted over the last month since he’s made his announcement,” said Ricky Wilkinson, who steps into Easter’s shoes as the interim General Services Director. “People are coming up and bringing up stories how they met him, how they admire him.”
It’s a parting Easter called “bittersweet,” as it has been prompted by his battle with cancer. Having somebody “who can keep up the pace that’s needed” was a factor in his decision to step down.
“I’m don’t want anybody’s sympathy,” Easter said. “But I will take their prayers.”
That four-letter word
At first blush, it might not be “something you want on your resume,” as Easter said.
“It’s that four-letter word: J-A-I-L,” Battle said.
Easter is inexorably tied to the controversial Madison County Jail project. However, the project was well underway, with its disastrously under-estimated cost projections and construction snafus, when he came to the rescue.
“A lot of the community thinks it was a failed project,” Easter said. “It was a successful project that just took more than it was initially thought. And now it’s been operating for 10 years without any major issues.”
“He came in after the mistakes had been made and he had to try to fix those mistakes and he did,” Battle said.
What else for a resume? There is the new Huntsville Aquatics Center, a facility unparalled in the U.S. There are new and efficient fire stations and police precincts. There is the new-look Big Spring Park – and the part of the park you don’t see, the underground dams that assure a consistent, efficient flow from the spring.
“He definitely has left us a legacy that’s a credit to his vision as a director,” Chris O’Neil, Facilities Construction Projects Coordinator.
A project he’s jump-started
Easter has earned every sort of contracting license imaginable, from plumbing to electrical. He has an elaborate shop in the home he shares with wife Lesley, the logistics manager for Huntsville Fire & Rescue. (They have two children, daughter Brandee, 28, and son Chad, 25.)
For all his skill set, “I spend all day dealing with water problems and roof problems and heating and air conditioning problems, the last thing I want to do when I get home is work on the house,” Easter said. “What is it they say? The painter’s house is the one that needs painting the most.”
There’s another City project in the works. Easter led the way in emphasizing the need for a new City Hall, illuminating the deterioration of the half-century-old current municipal tower with in-depth studies and eye-opening public presentations.
“I was hoping it would happen faster than it has, so I could participate more,” Easter said. “I do have some ideas I’d like to see incorporated, and I’ve shared those as we’ve moved forward.”
There’s a cause for cheer right there. For years, he’s put his heart into supporting a new City Hall, and how to do it wisely and efficiency. Now we know he’ll have his fingerprints on it, too.