Co-workers, friends bid Iris Jessie farewell

Photo by Jeylin White
Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie and Dwight McQueen, liaison for the cultural and leisure activities department, share a hug at Jessie’s farewell luncheon.

Photo by Jeylin White Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie and Dwight McQueen, liaison for the cultural and leisure activities department, share a hug at Jessie’s farewell luncheon.

RIVERDALE — It wasn’t just Good Friday for Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie, but it was rather goodbye, as she gave her final farewells to all her colleagues and friends on a sunny afternoon.

“It’s been a tremendous experience working for this city,” Jessie said.

Jessie resigned from her position as the city manager last month, after serving for nine years.

“It was just time to move on to something else,” she said.

Council member Kenny Ruffin and Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said the council bought out Jessie’s contract, which will officially end her position May 16.

“The council and the mayor were very generous,” Jessie said. “It’s basically a paid vacation.”

She said she will use this extra time to take a much-needed vacation and some personal time to relax before her next feat.

“I’m going to Disney World and a few other places,” Jessie said. “I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation or had some time off.”

Though her resignation came as a shock for many of her co-workers, it was not a bittersweet ending.

The Riverdale Cultural and Leisure’s Department threw a last-minute appreciation soiree for Jessie to pay homage for her years of service and contribution to the city. Several local dignitaries and officials greeted Jessie with hugs and smiles, as she walked through the doors of the Riverdale Center with surprise on her face.

“I had no idea they were going to throw me something,” Jessie said. “I just found out at the last minute.”

“I’m going to miss her so much,” said Cie Cie McGhee, director of cultural and leisure activities. Fighting back the tears, she added, “She has contributed so much to the growth of Riverdale and she is an amazing leader and role model. I wish her the best in all her endeavors.”

“Every time I was around her, she was full of so much positive energy and light,” said Corey Punzi, with the cultural and leisure activities department. “I’m going to miss her.”

Many shared the same sentiment as McGhee and Punzi.

Ruffin lavished her with praise.

“Jessie is responsible for a lot of the development of Riverdale in the course of her term serving as city manager,” Ruffin said.

He said Jessie was responsible for spearheading the development of the Riverdale Town Center and Regional Park. She brought in Atlanta Regional Commission, which conducted an organizational staffing study in 2005 and 2006, taking a closer look at how to streamline its departments. From this study, he said, the city was able to eliminate positions that were not serving a purpose, which in turn saved the city money.

Jessie also probation fees directly to the city rather than outsourcing to another companies, which would have charged fees and reduced the money collected. According to Ruffin, this brought in an estimated $800,000 a year to the city.

“She has been a very good asset to the city,” Ruffin said.

Jessie recalled when she first came to Riverdale.

“It was in complete turmoil,” she said.

The Columbus, Ohio, native said the city was unorganized and was suffering several structural problems within city governments, when she came on board in 2004. She said she had two major goals in mind: (1) Get the city finances in order and (2) balance the budget, to keep the city from constantly dipping into its reserves or emergency funds and without raising property taxes.

Riverdale’s assistant chief of police, Todd Spivey, a man of few words said Jessie was a “win-win for the city and community. She did a great job getting the City’s finances in order.”

“Jessie is a great leader,” said Riverdale Fire Chief Nish Willis. “I’m a [beneficiary] of a lot of her hard work and it’s exciting for me to work in this city.”