Familiar job, familiar territory
In January, having been city manager in three Texas cities over a 20-year span, Robert Ewart thought he might need a change. However, after considering several jobs including that of a Wal-Mart greeter, he returned to his first love: government.
He discovered that Pinehurst, population 2,200 and sometimes described as “sleepy,” sought to replace retired City Manager Dan Robertson.
Ewart, 61, a New Orleans native raised in Beaumont, also saw the move as a chance to get back home.
“I’ve always heard from people who moved away from Southeast Texas and then came back, and they talk about how friendly every is here,” he says. “And it’s true. It’s just a different viewpoint on life here in the Golden Triangle.
“I took a little bit of retirement, had about three weeks off and here I am.”
With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in government from Lamar University and North Texas State, Ewart served as Vidor’s public works director while he was a student. He went on to work at city manager in Sour Lake (1985-95), Dayton (1995-2005) and LaMarque (2005-09).
“When I was in Denton I got involved with the Jaycees and got a full-time job at International Harvester, and I really thought that would be my career,” he says. “But that’s a big corporation and after awhile you tend to realize you’re just another number, and so I came back down to the family business. Of course, not all of those family businesses work out. I think we were reaching beyond our limits. The business was successful in the long term, but we just couldn’t support everybody.”
He lives in a niece’s house in Beaumont, while she goes through her doctor’s residency in Temple. He lives not far from his mother, and has a new grandchild in Nederland. Ewart is in the middle of three brothers, the younger of whom has passed away.
“The house needed a little fixing up, but was not being used at the time and I’m taking advantage of that,” he says.
Ewart is still getting to know Pinehurst, and has spent his first days looking for ways to improve minor glitches in a well-oiled system.
“I’m hoping that some of the things that council has had to deal with in the past, that I consider to be more of administrative-type work; that we can relieve them of that with the possibility that they can work more on the policy side and public relations side,” he says. “There are a lot of details that can be worked out in advance [of council meetings]. And I want to take a closer look at the finances. It’s real, real tight, as it is with most cities these days. That’s a concern of mine everywhere I’ve been; it’s a matter of where you put the comma and where the decimal point is.
“It’s something that they (council) have got to keep in front of them and it’s my job to watch the nickels and dimes and to use the resources that we do have. You never have enough for everything you want to do – you’ve got to select your priorities. In smaller communities, everybody wears multiple hats … we need to look at, ‘How can we use what we have to our best advantage?’”
As the city continues to change, the search for a police chief (also to replace Robertson) is still underway. Council members will meet Wednesday to narrow a list of some 30 applicants down to everyone’s top five, then account for multiple choices.
Ewart’s first days have not been without some excitement with the recent fire at Optimist Village; which still seems to be the top gossip in the city.
No residents are living in Building C, the only one of the three complexes there that sustained damage. Ewart has toured the facility and consulted with fire officials.
“I’m not a structural engineer, but the top floor is gone,” he says. ”It’s going to have to be reconstructed. I don’t think the first and second floors had any significant fire damage, and that leads me to think they could rebuild that top floor and would of course, have to clean and remodel everything.”
Ewart thanks the Red Cross and area churches for fast response times to provide shelter and other needs for Optimist Village residents; as well as the Optimist’s group and others for hosting recent fundraisers.