Service Director Tackett retires after 43 years


PORTSMOUTH- Eyes are frequently on local leaders like members of council and City Manager Sam Sutherland, maybe even on individuals like City Engineer Nathan Prosh or Community Development Director Tracy Shearer. However, one major player in how effectively the city operates often goes under the radar, which is the role of City Service Director.

With a new year comes a shakeup in that department for the first time in years. After a long career with the City of Portsmouth, City Service Director Jack Tackett announced his retirement for the start of 2024.

Tackett had 43 years under his belt, which included a position in every department from seasonal work and sanitation to traffic, filtration to sewage. He became the City Service Director in 2020.

“I enjoyed my time as City Service Director,” Tackett claimed. “I tried to straighten things out for the workers and the city the best I could. We were able to accomplish a lot and be part of many things.”

Tackett says he learned a lot in the various departments he worked in, as well as directing. He is happy with how things have turned out and offered his insight on what makes a good city employee.

“Dependability is key,” Tackett said. “We need people willing to work. If someone is dependable and willing to work, then they’ll make a good employee, because the rest can be taught along the way.”

Tackett said that there are some issues he is concerned about, which boil down to the requirement of civil service.

“There is a place for civil service, such as police and fire, but we don’t need civil service for departments like sanitation. When someone on that list passes the test, we have to put them on the top of that list and hire them, but we don’t know if they can work just because they can pass a certain test,” Tackett explained. “There have been situations where employment just doesn’t work, and we have to let them go, but they did well with civil service. It is better to know who works. For instance, I had a guy down there, Jared Dickson, who has been there for four years and has not missed a single day of work. He may be 16 on the list, but there are people higher, because of their score on a test. However, he is one of the most outstanding workers.”

The new director is already positioned in the role, George James, who also has a longtime history with the city. James most recently was supervisor of the waterworks, where he had made an impact for decades, pulling in long hours in some extreme conditions, such as wintry, icy holes filled with water, to ensure service disruptions were kept minimal for residents during times of breaks.

Tackett is proud of James and thinks he is well-suited for the job.

“George has been there for a long time. He was with me for a while, in traffic. He knows everybody and how things need to be run. I think he will be a good fit,” Tackett explained. “You know, it can take two years to really learn how things function, and, well, the city made a smart move with George, because he is already familiarized and won’t take as long to start making an impact.”

Looking back on his many years in service to the city, Tackett had a lot of stories to recount and brag about. His favorite memories, however, are those with a more human element.

“When I started, I worked with Jack Jennings and Rich Pratt,” Tackett said. “We constantly worked, but we couldn’t wait to get in, because it felt like play. We really enjoyed our work; there was never a dull moment and we always got things done.”

While the city service director has a lot of defined responsibilities, there are many supportive functions they carry out that many people do not realize. These support functions often go unnoticed. For instance, when groups like Friends of Portsmouth or Main Street Portsmouth plan events or developments, they often rely on the City of Portsmouth to offer assistance in various ways. The city service director is often responsible for these initiatives.

For instance, Tackett and his employees were largely responsible for helping in situations of preparing land for park development, installing Christmas displays, unloading and installing large projects like playground equipment, and more. A lot of projects that the community has embraced were made possible to support from Tackett and city staff. The other responsible party has been Engineer Prosh and his staff.

Tackett recalls one of them fondly, a project he was much more directly involved in, which was the installation of holiday lighting on the riverfront and esplanade that all began after an unfortunate vandalism incident.

“We ordered a lot of lights from Indiana and were excited. They came to deliver and help us set up, but, about that time, a couple kids from Sciotoville came down and destroyed 27 of the scenes with a car,” Tackett recalled. “We took them apart and straightened what we could out. What we couldn’t, I drew out on the floor of the shop in chalk and bent metal to build it back and attached new lights. We did all of that ourselves. Even my son, Jon, who works for the city now, who was five at the time, helped weld some of the displays.”

Tackett continued to explain that this project expanded to include more displays for various holidays.

“We made a Fred and Wilma Flintstone for Valentine’s Day, an Iwo Jima display for Memorial Day, Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, and stuff like that,” Tackett explained.

Tackett explained that he had been debating on his retirement and felt like he could have served longer but ultimately decided that it was time to let someone else have a shot.

“I’ve been there long enough. I think it was time to pass it on. I enjoyed everything I did there, and I explained to all of the guys that, if they ever have any questions or need help, to call and I’ll run right down,” Tackett said. “I want to see it keep thriving and going. I think if we can let the City Manager manage, and not have people trying to take the city in too many directions at once and dilute the focus, then the city will be just fine.”

Now that Tackett has entered his retirement, he says he is taking his full-time responsibilities as papaw seriously while his son continues to serve the city of Portsmouth. He says they will be playing and driving around on many things that have wheels while looking back at a career he is proud of.

“I enjoyed every bit of it. Everything has its ups and downs, but we never had major problems,” Tackett said. “Everything we did was to improve and try to make things better the whole time I was there. It took a lot of people to make it happen and I’ll always remember working with them.”

Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2024 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.

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