Jefferson native ready to make the switch from Ranson to Charles Town
CHARLES TOWN – David Mills, Charles Town’s newly designated city manager, can’t wait to get to work helping people recognize what a great community Charles Town is.
“Charles Town has so many elements to it,” said the 47-year-old who was born in Ranson and grew up in Charles Town. “It’s historic, all-American. I don’t think people appreciate all it has to offer.”
After 17 years working for Ranson – first as city manager and since 2012 as its economic development guru – he is set to cross over to Charles Town and take on the duties of city manger here early next month.
Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith cited Mills’ 16 years of experience and familiarity with the area as key reasons for his selection. “He had all the qualification we were looking for,” she said. “His record in Ranson speaks for itself.”
Thirty-six others applied for the job following the departure of Joe Cosentini for a similar position in Tennessee. Council on May 14 unanimously OK’d a contract for Mills with a salary of $101,850.
Mills returned to Jefferson County 17 years ago after college and a career in the Army. He called his stint in Ranson government a “rare opportunity” to help build infrastructure, plan for growth and hire excellent city employees across the board.
“I was literally one of the first full-time employees for the city,” he said. “I dealt with the finances, utilities and parks. There was lots to do to keep the city going.”
David Hamill, Ranson’s mayor since 1986, said Mills helped bring jobs and
industry to Ranson. One of Mills’ projects was the creation of the Potomac Marketplace with its Home Depot, Kohl’s, Panera and a slew of other retailers off W.Va. 9.
“He got the grants we needed, [the] help with development,” Hamill said. “He made it all happen.”
Hamill said that Mills understands both Ranson and Charles Town and has cultivated strong ties with leaders all over. “He works with the county commissioners and has good relationships with state officials,” Hamill said. “He has made a name for himself.”
Anna Paonessa, chairwoman of the Charles Town City Council’s personnel committee, called Mills a proven talent. “He has been involved with every aspect of city management,” she said. “We believe he’ll hit the ground running for Charles Town.”
Mills said he does indeed have a lot of ideas, many of then focused on helping existing small businesses thrive and attracting new businesses to Charles Town. But he is careful to point out that he’ll work closely with Charles Town City Council and the community – he’s no one-man band.
Mills said he considers government work a higher calling.
“It’s customer service,” he said. “You work for the people. Be nice to them. You don’t want to lose customers.”
Mills’ philosophy about caring for those around him in his work and life has been honed in recent years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his spine and ribs.
“It nearly killed me,” he said. “It was a death sentence for quite some time. I had chemotherapy and intensive radiation, but my family stuck by me, as did the town of Ranson.” While Mills battled cancer, Andrew Blake be¬came interim city manager. Later, Mills became Ranson’s economic development director where he continued to work on planning and rezoning issues.
“This really put my family through the wringer,” he said. “It changed everything. When I was having chemo, I saw so many people in worse shape than me. It has made me appreciate things more.”
Mills’ wife of 27 years, Cheryl Mills, recently returned to school and completed a nursing degree. Their 26-year-old son Joshua also makes his living as a public servant – working as a firefighter in Martinsburg. “It did strengthen our family,” Mills said, who is now cancer-free. “We learned from it.”
Mills also is looking forward to helping Ranson and Charles Town work together to benefit their citizens. “Now we can apply for joint grants,” he said. “When you have a team effort, like we had in Ranson, it’s beautiful – like a symphony.”