PUNTA GORDA — With just a couple of weeks behind him officially on the job, new Punta Gorda Manager Gregory Murray is looking forward to getting his arms around all aspects of his new position as the city’s chief administrative officer.
Murray is the first new city manager in 15 years, replacing longtime manager Howard Kunik, who will retire in October.
In the meantime, Murray — a former county administrator for Washington County, Maryland — and Kunik are working together to make the transition as easy as possible for the city, its staff and its residents.
What are your impressions of Punta Gorda so far?
I’ve been here for a few weeks. I was able to be in the office a week before I (officially) started Aug. 24. I’ve had exactly the same first impressions as before — it’s a beautiful place with a lot of engaged residents and opportunities for people who live here (and want to move here).
In what ways have you been working with Kunik?
We’ve been able to visit with staff in City Hall and the annex building, as well as remote buildings like Public Safety (police and fire), utilities and public works ... others not in City Hall. The direction is all going to be very positive.
How do you see the city being able to move forward while maintaining its historic, hometown, harborside feel?
Obviously, there are challenges ahead considering COVID-19 and (future) developments. For business development, we have to be cognizant of attraction and retention especially with our small businesses that are struggling.
In the past two years to date, we’ve had 201 single-family homes permitted, as well as eight duplex apartments and eight new commercial buildings. We do see things moving forward and all those are within the current requirements of land development regulations, zoning etc. So, while we see things continuing to progress, it is still in character of the city.
There is a lot going on, but we are not starting from scratch. When you look at any place that is as well-managed as this one, there are going to be short-term and long-term projects that have already been addressed and are moving forward that I can (now) step in and be a part of.
Where do you see opportunity for growth, business and residential?
As we move forward and we look at the opportunities that the city has, there are some areas on the outskirts such as toward the Punta Gorda Airport (among others).
There are lots that we still have vacant (in the city limits) and they are filling up quickly. We have the single-family homes and large spaces like in the marketplace downtown that we want to see develop — based on the City Council’s goals and objectives — into something that is a positive feature for city residents and business expansion.
Being a former county administrator, how do you see that experience helping the city when it comes to projects that involve the county?
That is all very familiar territory. (You have to know) how to discuss those projects and get a decision on how to move forward, how they will be funded, what does it cost residents in and outside the city limits, and what are the challenges needing to be met. What are the benefits of the city and surrounding areas that have immediate concerns that need to be addressed.
All of those answers, while not readily available, will be provided through upcoming meetings and discussions by the City Council on how to move forward and what the benefits of the city and surrounding areas that have immediate concerns will be addressed.
It’s a long process but at the end of day, we will (all) come to a final decision on how to move those forward and the benefits to the city, county and state.
With hurricane season still going, how do you feel your experience in Washington County can relate to storm preparedness and reaction in Punta Gorda?
It was interesting to be able to go through the process on how the city prepares for a hurricane when there was a potential landfall threat (such as Laura in August). City staff is well-prepared for anything that happens from issuing notices, declaring a state of emergency, providing storm shutters on critical buildings to make sure everyone is safe and secure, as well as structures for departments from police and fire to other departments.
We didn’t have hurricanes, so to speak, but we had tornadoes, major flooding and storms that would bring in multiple feet of snow where emergency services couldn’t even get around. I’m not unfamiliar with the need or process for detailed response plans and preparedness, (but) the city of Punta Gorda is well-prepared.