DailyCommercial.com: Meet New City Manager Gary La Venia

City Manager Gary La Venia, 59, has a tough job ahead: holding on to Fruitland Park's historic farm country charm as city goes on a sudden growth binge.

City Manager Gary La Venia, 59, has a tough job ahead: holding on to Fruitland Park’s historic farm country charm as city goes on a sudden growth binge.

From today’s Daily Commercial:

Fruitland Park - Busy times for new Fruitland Park manager

Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:00 am
Steve Fussell Special to The Daily Commercial |0 comments

When Gary La Venia showed up half an hour early to start his new job as Fruitland Park’s City Manager on Monday morning, a job search that began more than a year ago, he found city staffers waiting for him with file folders in their hands.

By late afternoon La Venia, 59, had collected a “to do” list of more than two dozen tasks, most of them immediate, critical and complex.

In between meetings, he organized his office, set up a filing system and reviewed the agenda for Thursday evening’s commission meeting. For lunch he toured the city with Police Chief Terry Isaacs.

At the end of the day, the veteran public service administrator, who holds a master’s megree from Rutgers University, still appeared fresh and enthusiastic as he waited for his first official meeting with Mayor Chris Bell.

“This is why I chose this career,” La Venia said. “In local government, almost everything you do matters, and most of it matters to almost everyone.”

La Venia shrugged and chuckled. “And,” he said, “there’s a lot to do here.”

For instance:

The city is still getting used to the fact that later this year, an estimated 4,000 new residents will begin moving into Fruitland Park, doubling the population with older, more affluent and –proportionately — more eligible voters. For a year at least — that’s how long The Villages says it will take to sell all 2,038 new homes — Fruitland Park will rank as the nation’s fastest-growing city.

But first, the city’s water system requires a major expansion. Wastewater systems could reach critical capacity next year and the city just launched a massive three-to-five year process to acquire its electric system from Leesburg.

The police department will hire, equip and train nine officers.

Expansion of Miller Avenue — County Road 466A — will be getting under way soon.

A Charter Review Committee will look at whether the city should change the way voters elect their commissioners and mayor, measures which could be on the ballot come November.

Updating the city’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan and CRA plan were put on hold a year ago to await the new city manager.

The easy stuff, like buying a strip of land for a major expansion of the library, paid for with a county grant, will close on Friday.

La Venia said he found few surprises his first day. He stayed in daily contact with Interim City Manager Rick Conner since he agreed to take over as the city’s chief administrative officer in October. He’s monitored news reports online.

“In all, I’m impressed with how well the city is operating,” La Venia said. “We have a good staff in place. With so much going on, I expected a bit more confusion,” he said.

La Venia is well aware his new city will be in the spotlight.

“The potential here is really enormous,” he said. “Right now all the attention is focused on The Villages development, but that’s a closed community and most of the requirements are pretty well known,” he explained.

“But that will accelerate more issues such as expansion of 466A and new commercial projects as well as residential development for working families,” he said.

“There’s a lot to do to get ready,” La Venia said.

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