‘I will see you soon’: Ustick says goodbye to Destin
When Maryann Ustick accepted the job as Destin’s city manager, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but as she looks ahead to her last day on the job Monday, she’s thankful for the opportunity.
“This city has all the benefits of a small town — like the caring people who are willing to help out at a moment’s notice — but it also has all of the services you would expect from a big city,” she told The Log Thursday morning. “I would have to say this is the world’s busiest little fishing village.”
Ustick, who served as the city’s seventh full-time city manager, was hired to replace outgoing City Manager Greg Kisela in 2011 after spending time as the assistant city manager in Pensacola, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the city of North Las Vegas, Nevada. She resigned as city manager to spend more time with her family out west, where she will also serve as the new city manager in Gallup, New Mexico.
When she first looked at the opportunity to come to Destin, Ustick said the quality of life appealed to her, but it wasn’t until she met the city council she’d be working for and the city staff that she was “hooked.”
“There were a lot of exciting projects in the works and challenges,” she said. “But it was really the staff. They are like a family here.”
“I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to replicate this,” she added.
ON THE JOB
For Ustick, her first year on the job was a self described “baptism by fire,” as she walked in and had to immediately find a remedy to the Waste Management-ad valorem tax assessment situation, which was quite contentious.
The city was also working through phase one of the harbor boardwalk after securing the easements needed to make the project come to fruition after 20-plus years.
“It was something that had been worked on for so long,” Ustick said. “It was really a unique and challenging project.”
Not only was the city in the midst of the boardwalk, city leaders were also working with a bevy of state and federal agencies to permit and secure funding for the stabilization of Norriego Point, which Ustick says is “one of the most important” projects for the city.
“There were just so many divergent opinions, whether it was sheet pile or rock, and it took a lot of effort to just stay on target and get the plans done.”
And while she may be moving on, Ustick said she plans to walk along the fully-stabilized Norriego Point once the $10 million-plus project is completed.
“I’m going to put my toes in all of that new sand on Norriego Point,” she said.
Ustick received an official send-off from the city during her last official city council meeting Monday night, as Mayor Mel Ponder presented her with flowers, a key to the city and a compass so she could “find her way home.”
“Our door shall always be open to her,” Ponder said. “I pray that this will always be home to you.”
For his part, Councilman Jim Wood said that “In a world of dwindling government ethics, you’ve set the standard.”
When she had the chance to address her colleagues Monday night, Ustick couldn’t say enough for the hard work and dedication “Team Destin” put forth.
“As I told the mayor earlier, I hate goodbyes,” she said. “I just want to thank you all for the privilege and the honor; it was a very, very special honor.”
But at the end of the day, family is the most important.
“My children and my grandchildren are out west and in this time in their lives they need that support from me,” she said. “You can darn betcha we’ll be back.”
As for her time in Destin, Ustick told The Log Thursday the first word she could think of to explain it would be “fun.”
“There are so many happy, wonderful times that we had and memories,” she said. “This is truly such a special place and we had a lot of fun.”
CHALLENGES OF THE JOB
Although there were plenty of fun times, there were also challenges along the way. But challenges are part of the reason Ustick came to Destin in the first place.
She didn’t have to think long to recall the most challenging time in her Destin tenure. It was hands down the city’s legal wrangling with the proposed operators of The Runway, which would have been the city’s first strip club.
“It was certainly the most time consuming and intense,” she said. “I would have to say this was the most legally complicated matter I’ve ever had to work through.”
Ultimately city leaders agreed to buyout the developers and now own the property along Airport Road.
While Ustick says the city is positioned to accomplish many of its goals, there are certainly still challenges ahead, such as getting community consensus on the comp plan as it relates to development standards. But the successes far outweigh the challenges, she said.
“We were able to make quite a few changes to our internal processes, which is something that people on the outside will never see,” she said. “That’s made a big difference.”
As she prepares to “ride off into the sunset,” Ustick will be in a familiar position — meeting with Greg Kisela, who she replaced, and is now replacing her.
“Only in Destin,” she said with a chuckle. “Only in Destin.”
She will admittedly miss the Destin lifestyle, the flip flops and the relaxed approach to life along the city’s sugar white beaches and emerald green waters, but her decision to leave is “the right decision, personally.”
“I’ll be back, so I won’t say goodbye,” she said. “I’ll say I will see you soon.”