Ornduff pleased he has been able to serve Elizabethton

By Bob Robinson

Star Staff

   When David Ornduff was growing up in Elizabethton, he used to ride his bicycle on some city streets which were still dirt and gravel.
   Today, as director of planning and development for the City of Elizabethton, Ornduff is planning highways for future generations.
   Within a span of 18 years, he has obtained more than $33 million in grants and loans to benefit residents of Elizabethton and Carter County.
   During the same period, the City's population grew from 12,000 to 13,372 and the number of City of Elizabethton employees increased from 150 to 200.
   The former Navy veteran, who served on a destroyer during the Korean War, believes Elizabethton is the "best place on Earth" to live, work and raise a family. He said he wouldn't trade places with anyone.
   "I was born here, grew up here, educated here, married here, raised my family here, and for the most part, earned my living here. I wanted to contribute to the quality of life in our community," Ornduff said.
   In 1951, Ornduff and three cousins joined the Navy and were sent to the Korean War theater. After he got out of the Navy in 1955, Ornduff obtained his G.E.D. high-school-equivalency diploma and enrolled in East Tennessee State University (ETSU).
   In 1961, he received a B.S. degree in industrial arts. "At the time, ETSU didn't offer a major in city planning. I had planned on being a school teacher," he said.
   Ornduff has completed numerous specialized training programs in planning and development offered by ETSU, the University of Tennessee, University of Georgia, University of Wisconsin, and International City, County Management Association University.
   After graduating from ETSU, Ornduff was employed as a process engineer-draftsman at Imperial Furniture Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., before moving to Johnson City in 1963 to join Pharmaseal Laboratories.
   From 1966 to 1971, Ornduff was city planner and director of planning for the City of Johnson City.
   In 1971, Ornduff became the executive director of the Elizabethton Housing Authority and later Director of Urban Renewal. Among accomplishments, he directed a $5.6 million urban renewal project for Elizabethton's Central Business District and developed a $2.3 million, 126-unit housing project.
   In 1974, Elizabethton City Council named Ornduff director of community development and assistant to the city manager responsible for the Community Development Program.
   From 1975 to 1983, Ornduff was employed by ETSU's Office of Career Development and Continuing Education.
   Each job helped prepare him for the next one.
   Ultimately, in 1983, after responding to a newspaper advertisement, Ornduff was interviewed by Elizabethton Mayor Richard Sharpin and City Manager Tom Hord.
   After being hired as director of planning and development, Ornduff later would be asked to serve as interim city manager in 1990.
   Ornduff's first office was located on the ground floor in the old City Hall Building, below the City Police Department and jail, East F Street entrance.
   Visitors to Ornduff's office would go "down" the steps. Visitors to prisoners housed in the City Jail would go "up" the steps.
   Q. What was it like going to work the first day on the job?
   "At the time, the City had contracted with the State of Tennessee for planning services. It was an enjoyable time. My office was in the basement of the old City Hall, which was 60 years old."
   According to Ornduff, planning is a process of government looking to the future to influence the well-being of residents. It should include the study of the community in the light of modern technology and current economic and social trends. It should also seek to protect the good features of the community and to improve those which are substandard.
   "Planning is essentially a process of understanding human needs and of influencing and sharing future public policy to serve those needs most effectively," Ornduff said.
   Q. What was one of the first things you accomplished in your new job?
   "Obtained grants to establish Cherokee Industrial Park and to develop its infrastructure. This included roads, water, sewer and electricity."
   Q. You have also obtained grants for Elizabethton Municipal Airport, haven't you?
   "Yes, we have worked to extend the runway, provide additional hangars. I believe Elizabethton Municipal Airport will play a key role in the future growth of the Elizabethton and Carter County."
   Ornduff has also been the project manager for the new City Hall, Elizabethton/Carter county Public Library, Tennessee Vocational Training Center and Elizabethton's new Fire Station Number Three.
   Q. What is the biggest challenge you have faced as planning and development director?
   "One of the most difficult things is having to say no to people who have ideas and things they desire to accomplish but it is not permitted by City ordinance.
   "One of the most challenging to me, personally, was the development of the Urban Growth Plan, which was completed in 1999. It was a lot of fun but also a lot of work. The 20-year plan had to be approved by the City Council and also by the State of Tennessee," Ornduff said.
   For the past 53 years, the City of Elizabethton has had a planning program. In recent years, plans have been developed on Community Facilities, 1981; Population and Economic Base Study and Land Use, 1984; and, Major Thoroughfare, 1987.
   Q. What other projects would you like to see completed on your watch? What is left to be done?
   "There are several. I would like to see:
   * The Historic Zoning Commission established in Elizabethton to help preserve historic buildings. It would allow the City to apply for grants to help restore and preserve some historic areas.
   * The Riverfront Linear Walking/Bicycle Path completed.
   * The Comprehensive Plan for the City completed.
   * The Watauga River Regional Water Authority get underway.
   * Arrangements be made for the new Northern Connector Highway.
   * The Veterans War Memorial completed at the corner of Pine Street and Elk Avenue. Although I could still assist in the fund drive without being in my present capacity."
   Q. Would you encourage retirees and residents of the community to get involved in government service?
   "Yes. There are many opportunities for citizens and retirees to serve on various boards and commissions in the City, such as the Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission, Park and Recreation Board and Baseball Commission, just to mention a few.
   "They should express an interest to Mayor Sam LaPorte or to any member of the Elizabethton City Council. They may also stop by City Hall and get an application at the City Manager's office."
   Q. Why is Elizabethton such an attractive place for tourists and retirees?
   "Some of the most appealing aspects of Elizabethton are clean air, good water, plenty of sunshine and infrastructure. We are a small community and we grow as we can afford to. Elizabethton has a quality of life that is becoming harder and harder to find in other communities. We have a very well-managed community.
   "Where else could you walk downtown, get a sandwich and a soft drink, and walk to the park to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and the beauty of the area. That's a quality of life that should be protected 'at all costs' because there aren't many places left where you find this.
   "I would hope my successor will continue to preserve and protect this quality of life for future generations."
   Ornduff made these comments while watching a tranquil Doe River flow beneath the historic Elk Avenue Bridge which will soon undergo a state-funded renovation. Architectural drawings and renovation plans must be submitted to Elizabethton City Council for prior approval, Ornduff said.
   After the first of the year, The Covered Bridge, dubbed "The Queen of the South," will also undergo a complete renovation. The City of Elizabethton will oversee this project, as well.
   "I love being a public servant and being in a position to serve others. I also recognize the fact that no man is an island unto himself.
   "It takes a lot of people to make things happen in a City the size of Elizabethton. I could not have done it without the help of the city manager, department heads, city employees, mayor, city council, residents of Elizabethton, and others in state and local government with whom I have had the privilege to work," Ornduff said.
   Charles Stahl, Elizabethton City Manager, said David Ornduff is one of the most dedicated and hardest working directors of planning and development he has ever known. "He is truly an asset to the City of Elizabethton." The City of Elizabethton Web site is found at www.elizabethton.org.
   As the future generation crosses the threshold of tomorrow, Ornduff is confident they, too, will be successful.
   "One of the things so thrilling to me is to be a part of the Honors Day at Elizabethton High School. Every time I go down there and see the young people, their abilities, and things they have achieved and the contributions they have made, I realize here are the future senators, congressmen, presidents, mayors, councilmen and city planners.
   "It helps me keep my perspective on why I am here. It helps me stay focused on providing a quality of life to ensure a sustainable community in the future.
   "Education is something no one can take away from you. You will use it your entire life," Ornduff said.
   Married to the former Betsy Lou Smith for 45 years, the couple has twin boys, Timothy, a corporate pilot; and Gregory, maintenance supervisor at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Knoxville.
   As the mild-mannered, soft-spoken, white-haired, southern gentleman reflects on the many roads he has traveled since the early days of riding his bicycle on the dusty streets of Elizabethton, Ornduff's mission in life has been to "make this a better place.
   "The barrel never empties if you put a little back. Planning is the most enjoyable thing I have ever done," he said.
   To those who enjoy the quality of life Elizabethton and Carter County has to offer, they say thanks to David R. Ornduff, a good and faithful public servant, for a job well done.