As Retirement Looms, Tuttle Says City’s ‘Going to be Fine’

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Community members and colleagues gathered Friday evening to congratulate Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle on his retirement. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)
Community members and colleagues gathered Friday evening to congratulate Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle on his retirement. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)

Tuesday will be the last day Jack Tuttle sits in his office in the second floor corner of the Williamsburg Municipal Building.

After 24 years as the City of Williamsburg’s city manager, Tuttle is retiring June 30. His successor will inherit a city that has been shaped in many ways by Tuttle’s leadership.

Tuttle’s desk is covered with city documents, and the book shelf adjacent to it is filled with binders, reports and pages assembled over three decades.

One item occupies a special place in that shelf — Tuttle’s master’s thesis, titled, “Productivity Measurement and the City of Pensacola.” That document defines Tuttle and his approach to guiding Williamsburg.

Growing up in Maryland, Tuttle knew he wanted to get involved in government. He had an interest in public affairs and history, and a career in government would incorporate both of those interests.

“I remember when I was 13 years old, spending time in the basement watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions,” he said. “The idea of professional city management just seemed to fit.”

Tuttle left Maryland to go to college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While he was a student, he studied history and participated in naval ROTC, which set him up for a stint in the Navy after graduation, but the passion for public affairs remained.

Tuttle spent four years in the Navy as an ensign. He credits his time as an officer for helping to shape a future career in government. Working in state or federal government did not interest Tuttle. He compared it to steering an aircraft carrier: He wanted something smaller and more personal.

“You couldn’t see much of an effect of what you did [in the Navy],” he said. “Local government’s not like that at all. It’s just immediate.”

During his time in the Navy, Tuttle spent time in Florida, and after his discharge, he accepted a position with the City of Pensacola as an intern. While he worked for the city, gaining hands-on experience in local government, Tuttle worked toward a master’s degree in public administration at the University of West Florida, which he received in 1978.

After seven years in Pensacola, Tuttle accepted his first city manager position with the City of Gulf Breeze, Fla., in 1983. He enjoyed the job and Gulf Breeze, but after seven years as city manager, Tuttle began to look for new opportunities.

He came across the Williamsburg city manager position by chance and was immediately interested in it. Williamsburg was close to his mid-Atlantic roots, and would play into his love of history.

He submitted an application, but did not expect to hear back.

“I threw in a resume and pretty well forgot about it because I thought, ‘This is a longshot,’” he said. “I didn’t know a soul up here, I had no connections, no one I knew who could put in a good word.”

A few weeks later, he had a job offer. In 1991, Tuttle moved to Williamsburg to become the sixth city manager in the city’s history.

Over his 24 years as city manager, Tuttle has overseen a period of great change in Williamsburg’s history. When he arrived in 1991, Williamsburg was the urban center of a rural Historic Triangle, and Colonial Williamsburg was only three years removed from its highest annual attendance figure. Both of those situations would quickly change.

Williamsburg, James City County and York County saw rapid development of suburbs and fast population growth. Meanwhile, attendance at Colonial Williamsburg dropped from its late 1980s peak.

Despite those challenges, Tuttle said the last 25 years have been good for the city. Tuttle pointed to the development of city infrastructure, particularly the city’s municipal center, as positive moves for Williamsburg.

“The city square has been transformed over the time I’ve been here,” he said. “Beginning with the library expansion, we built the community building, the parking terrace, now the new Stryker building, the fire station and EOC project, we purchased and rehabbed the train station, we built this [municipal] building.”

While the library and the Stryker Center are physical changes to the face of the city, Tuttle’s proudest achievement as city manager is not instantly visible to residents — securing Williamsburg’s access to water resources.

As city manager, Tuttle orchestrated the city’s purchase of the Waller Miller reservoir, which provides Williamsburg residents with drinking water. He also negotiated a contract with the City of Newport News to use its waterworks as an insurance policy.

“We’ve been able to secure the city’s future in terms of knowing the city will have adequate supplies of fresh water for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Tuttle is proud of his achievements, and is quick to point to a two-page list of every award and honor the city has received during his tenure as city manager, but there are episodes he would have liked to see turn out differently.

Tuttle has regularly pointed to the city’s small size — 9 square miles — as a challenge to maintaining quality of life in Williamsburg. As such, land acquisition and management is one of his primary focuses. Tuttle’s biggest regrets as city manager are moments of missed opportunity, times when the city could have purchased land to direct its development.

“We had an opportunity to purchase all of what is now Holly Hills,” he said. “We did preserve [a portion], but I’ve thought about that – that might have been a lost opportunity to put all of that into open space permanently.”

Despite those perceived missed chances, Tuttle believes he is leaving the city in better shape than he found it.

“I’m leaving knowing they’re going to be fine,” he said.

Two of his oldest colleagues agree with him.

After Tuttle announced his retirement in November 2014, Mayor Clyde Haulman said Tuttle’s leadership was one of the main factors in the city’s modernization.

“He’s made improvements across the board, including the way we do every part of our business,” Haulman said. “I think he has been instrumental in transforming Williamsburg and Williamsburg city government, and why we’re the envy of cities across the country and around the world.”

Former Mayor Jeanne Zeidler, who worked with Tuttle for 19 years as a member of the City Council and Williamsburg-James City County School Board, echoed Haulman’s sentiment.

“In 1991 this community was very different than it is today,” Zeidler said. “Jack oversaw many improvements that most of us take for granted. For example, the multiple projects to bury power lines underground. At this point, it’s hard to imagine what Jamestown Road looked like before this work was done there – and that’s just one project.”

Tuttle’s tenure as city manager ends Tuesday, but he plans to stay active in Williamsburg. He will serve on the Williamsburg Health Foundation board, but he also plans to take some personal time.

“I have a long list,” he said. “I’m just going to start looking at that list and checking things off and seeing how it goes.”