By A.J. Kaufman
Some called him an icon, but regardless, a legendary career of public service came to a conclusion March 1, when Phil Pindzola bid farewell.
He worked more than 44 years for Johnson City, most recently as Public Works director, where among many achievements, he had a major impact on the downtown’s redevelopment.
The Tullahoma, Tenn., native knew his field well. Pindzola holds an undergraduate degree from Rhodes College in Memphis and did his graduate work in public administration at the University of Tennessee. He initially arrived in the Tri-Cities area via a nine-month internship in Kingsport before joining city government full time.
After stints in planning and community and neighborhood development, Pindzola became assistant public works director and then was promoted to public works director — the position he held the rest of his career — in 1985.
“It takes the department, management, city commission and citizens all working together to be a part of decision making,” Pindzola explained to the News & Neighbor. “We touched every area of public works and upgraded every area.”
These efforts included public waste for the entire county and city, leading to the largest municipally-operated collection service in the Volunteer State.
Pindzola also was instrumental in starting Tennessee’s first recycling program about three decades ago. Within the process, the city diverted from the landfill about a half-million tons of waste.
He believes Johnson City is the only municipal collection service in Tennessee to provide a full array of collection services, including industrial, residential, commercial and recycling.
On the transportation side, almost all three, four and five-lane roads in Johnson City were built or substantially reconstructed during his tenure.
When that happened, Johnson City moved from being a “little bit isolated” to having four-lane roads in every direction.
“By building that infrastructure, which was about 185 lane miles of roadways, it gave the community an opportunity to expand, which it has,” Pindzola said.
As a result, there was commercial development, like Kroger, Med Tech Park, Wal-Mart and more.
When Pindzola arrived, there was no code provided for sidewalks. That also changed.
“We wanted to connect neighborhoods to other neighborhoods,” he recalls. “And when we did that, it gave people opportunity to get out of their neighborhood and walk elsewhere in town.”
Now, roughly 85 miles of sidewalk have been built. With help from the private sector, neighborhoods were also rehabbed and upgraded with tree removal, landscaping and more.
Along with intersection improvements to help keep traffic moving, he oversaw the rehabilitation of downtown Johnson City storm water systems to mitigate flooding and induce economic development in the area.
After the 2003 floods, when he saw folks kayaking on streets and the west side of the railroad tracks, Pindzola knew downtown re-development was crucial.
This included streetscaping downtown and constructing King Commons and Founders Park. Public art also started about 12 years ago, and Pindzola thinks it enhances the landscape of the community.
“It gives Johnson City an identity, which it has,” he explained, adding that “Instead of reinventing the wheel, expand on what you do well.”
Pindzola and his wife, Katy, have a son in Arizona they hope to visit soon. Otherwise, they plan to play golf, ride their bikes and travel, including potential trips to Iceland and Maine.
“Public works is in real good hands. We have a good group of guys heading it up,” he said. “To be able to walk away is not easy, but knowing that it’s in their hands, I am not anxious at all. They’re gonna do a great job. And if you look at all the people coming in, I think Johnson City is a diamond, and people are recognizing it as such…if we keep moving in this direction — low tax rate, low crime, a great education system, sound decisions — there’s no end in sight.”