Ronnie Hall’s last in-office day as Conway’s city engineer was on Thursday. On Tuesday he was with family in Panama City Beach, but he’ll be back around the city’s street department offices once in a while to give advice and guidance as an independent contractor to the engineers that succeed him "if my reputation remains intact after this is published," he said.
Hall was the city engineer for 20 years. Before that he was a design engineer for Garver Engineers.
"Twenty years of service to the city was quite rewarding," he said. "It was a good group of people to work for, both the city council and the citizens and both (previous Mayor David) Kinley and (Mayor Tab) Townsell were great to work for.
"At Garver I got to know several city councils and Conway was always the most stable and non-disruptive to work with. They’re good folks and they always seemed to work through problems and make the proper decisions. This has been a great second career after Garver."
Townsell said that Hall "has been an absolute godsend for the city in the 20 years he worked for us" because of "both his engineering ability and practical know-how and common-sense approach to things."
Brad Lacy, CEO and President of the Conway Development Corp and Conway Chamber of Commerce, said that in his experience more people, "including me," think that they’re experts on things like traffic flow and stormwater drainage than actually are. "But what I have learned over time is that (Hall) is very thorough and very thoughtful, and when he comes up with a solution, it’s going to be a good one."
Lacy said that over the years he and his staff have occasionally tried to run innovative and out-of-the box solutions past Hall. Generally, Lacy said, "he’d have a specific response that was so funny; he’d say, ‘Oh, man!’ [and here Lacy tried to imitate Hall’s comedic drawl] and put his face in his hands and just shake his head slowly back and forth" before carefully explaining how wrong they were and why.
Over the years, city hall and this newspaper have gotten calls from people who went to Hall with problems — generally local flooding problems — and not received the answer they wanted.
"If someone’s backyard was flooding, it often might seemed to them that whatever we did nearby had an effect of increasing flooding," Hall said. Often these people got a brief explanation from Hall of how water will follow the path of least resistance in accordance with the law of gravity "without fail," and if "you were in the low place, that’s typically where the water accumulated the deepest."
"After 20 years it kind of gets to where you won’t explain it again," Hall said on Tuesday. "But for my first ten or 15 I tried to explain it. … We received a lot of good input from the citizens. Some of it was non-technical and personal in nature. And I always tried to think of our funding as far as benefitting the group of people and not the individual backyard issues. And that did not make a lot of friends, but I still believe that way."
"He can be abrasive to people that don’t have quite the same grasp of things on an engineering level that he does," Townsell acknowledged, "but in his 20 years with the city he’s worn many hats and he’s going to be very tough to replace and we do appreciate his full 20 years of service to the city.
"He’s a great engineer that delivers practical and common-sense solutions — and delivers them in the time you need them to be delivered in — across a host of topics from FAA to flooding and floodplain management to sanitary landfill to highway department and federal highway projects as well as the general street program."
Hall said his favorite project with the city has been the new airport. It’s taken more than half of his 20 years of city work "to get to the point where we finally have the runway paved," but he expects it to have the most effect on how the city functions as a business center. The tragic crash of a Cessna Citation corporate jet into a home at the west end of the existing airport runway in June 2007 was a turning point in this project, he said, because "we realized that yes, there are hazards at the existing airport and the FAA needed to realize they needed to quit finding issues with the new site and start finding ways to fund it."
His favorite solution to a difficult problem, he said, involved the controversial gestation of the Cadron Valley Planned Unit Development (PUD) over the course of 2005 and 2006. There, a series of drainage ponds were integrated into a golf course/apartment complex that helped solve a flooding problem for adjacent "downstream" homeowners.
"That wasn’t so much the city as it was the developer working with the city to address the comments he received at the public meetings," Hall said. That process of negotiation between a developer, the public and the city set a precedent for large-scale PUD developments that still stands today — generally.
Hall said he did want to be on-record as thanking the people of Conway for investing in city infrastructure through a 1987 half-cent sales tax increase that has been the "workhorse" for major projects like Prince Street and extending Hogan Lane and Salem Road across Cadron Ridge. "That funded a lot of things that, without them, we’d be in a mess," he said.
Lacy said that he came to appreciate Hall’s job more when it became apparent "just how well-respected he is in his industry."
"People with the state highway department, those guys respect him, and when he gives his opinion about something, it matters to them. For us, having that experience and that knowledge on staff with the city has been a big bonus. He has helped in really every major economic development project that I can remember, and he will be missed."