GREENFIELD — Mike Fruth chuckles when he recalls approaching then-Mayor Keith McClarnon nearly 27 years ago about an engineering job in Greenfield.
Then he approached McClarnon a second time. The third time was the charm.
“(McClarnon) said, ‘Well, we’ll try it,’” Fruth said. “I see Mayor McClarnon today, he says, ‘How are you doing?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m still trying it.’”
Now, approaching three decades since he began working for the city in 1986, Fruth has taken on a new role in city government, leaving his “great job” as city engineer behind.
Fruth became director of utilities for the city of Greenfield Jan. 1. Karla Vincent, who has served as assistant engineer under Fruth for the last 3½ years, was promoted to engineer.
The director of utilities is a new position for Greenfield government. Mayor Dick Pasco said he asked the city council to approve the new position when it became clear that the electric, water, wastewater and storm sewer utilities were becoming a big business and it would help to have one person overseeing all four. Previously, the mayor oversaw all the utilities. Pasco said he will still be somewhat involved but that Fruth has the technical know-how to make it work.
“If you look at the gross revenue for utilities, it’s a pretty sizable business,” Pasco said. “At best, the mayor can devote 50 percent of his time to it.”
Vincent was appointed as city engineer at Fruth’s recommendation, Pasco said. The two have been helping each other in the transition since the fall.
“If Mike Fruth recommends somebody, I’m going to take it,” Pasco said. “He’s so straight-laced, such an honest guy.”
Vincent has been working alongside Fruth the past three years, mostly overseeing the city’s construction of roundabouts. Having come from a consulting firm that dealt with roundabouts in the Carmel area, Vincent said she had a background in transportation when she took on the assistant position in Greenfield.
She met the idea of becoming city engineer with “a little bit of excitement, a little bit of apprehension.”
“They’re big shoes to fill,” she said.
Vincent, 32, is married to Paul, and they have two children. The family lives in McCordsville. Karla Vincent graduated from Purdue University and became a professional engineer in 2007.
Fruth said he has faith in Vincent’s ability, and it’s good that she can take the reins after having assisted with projects. Those dealing with federal aid can be particularly difficult to navigate, he said, and Vincent already knows where several of those projects stand with the city.
Meanwhile, Fruth said he’ll miss certain aspects of the engineering office while he moves to his new location, on the ground floor of city hall.
“I’ll miss working on projects from concept to construction,” Fruth said. “It’s exciting and rewarding.”
Fruth, 57, lives in Miami County. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children and four grandchildren.
Greenfield is very different today from what it was like when Fruth first came to the community in 1986. The city’s population has roughly doubled as more industrial development has brought residents and commercial businesses. One of Fruth’s first projects was the Broadway Street expansion to the north side of town. Back then, New Road was a county road, and there was only one warehouse and one restaurant north of Green Meadows Drive.
The creation of Greenfield’s Tax Increment Finance District in 1989 yielded expansion around Interstate 70. Fruth can still remember how the city borrowed $150,000 that year to add infrastructure to the north side of town.
“I can remember a lot of numbers; I may not remember everyone’s name,” Fruth said, laughing. “(My mind) is like a computer – it’s on memory overload. I need an upgrade.”
Fruth also remembers working on his first economic development deal. He was in a meeting with Keihin Indiana Precision Technologies in Indianapolis when it struck him that company officials were serious about locating to Greenfield.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what a wonderful project for the city,’” Fruth said. “At that time, we had some industry, but nothing real major.”
With industry, Fruth said, came additional growth. Fruth assisted with annexations, making sure companies had the infrastructure they needed when locating here. More recently, he has worked on traffic studies to ensure the city’s residents can easily make their way around town.
In his new role as utility director, Fruth will continue to assist with development, but he’ll focus more on electric, water and sewer than streets. He’ll no longer attend traffic safety or planning meetings; he’s attended roughly 260 plan commission meetings over the years, he estimates.
Fruth said the city’s utilities have become more complicated as they’ve grown. He hopes to help manage resources, from equipment to employees to finances, and look for ways to become more efficient. Nelson Castrodale, Mark Nance and Dave Scheiter will continue to be department heads over the electric, water and wastewater departments respectively.
“As it’s become more technical, it’s becoming more of a challenge (for a mayor or city council members) to learn and get familiar with it in a four-year (elected term),” Fruth said.
Meanwhile, Vincent has been attending meetings with Fruth to get acclimated to her new role. She said Fruth is a good mentor, but he also encourages her to do her own thing.
Fruth said he believes in the old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”
“Sometimes, the best advice from me is just, ‘Figure it out,’” Fruth said, adding that he hopes Vincent can bring a fresh perspective to the office. “Change is great. Change is necessary.”