Decatur honors longtime manager with sculpture and massive reunion

In what proved an utter surprise to the honoree, the Decatur Business Association threw an enormous party for outgoing City Manager Peggy Merriss at the Decatur Conference Center Tuesday night, which it dubbed “Peggypalooza.”

Merriss retires on Dec. 31 after 35½ years with the city, the last 25½ as city manager. One night earlier the city commission named longtime Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold as her successor.

On Tuesday a 10-minute video was screened featuring pithy comments from a spectrum of associates spanning decades. Perhaps the pithiest came from current Decatur Active Living Director Greg White who proclaimed, “Now you’ll have time to come over to the Rec Center and work on your Pickle Ball game.”

Mayor Patti Garrett announced that a sculpture honoring Merriss is under creation, ultimately planned for inside Legacy Park (the former United Methodist Children’s Home). Merriss has been a longtime supporter of public art, with the city buying many pieces from its own art festival over the last 20 years for display inside and outside civic structures.

The Merriss sculpture displays two bare-branched trees rising and bending with complex intertwining at the top forming a bower, topped by a gigantic birds nest. Titled “Start Where You Are,” on Tuesday Garrett displayed a miniature replica to the roughly 200 who attended.

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But the unequivocal highlight was a massive reunion of mayors, commissioners and staffers past and present including Merriss’ predecessor Curtis Branscombe, who held the job from 1972-93.

“I knew from the first day she went to work for me [in 1983] she’d be a city manager,” Branscombe said. “Beneath that pleasant exterior she was very tough.

“I think,” he continued, “one of her big things was getting and retaining people who could carry out her vision. She did a lot herself, but she got a lot of other people to help her do a lot more. I think that’s her legacy.”

Merriss’ last meeting—she estimates having presided over at least 600—is Dec. 17 when the commission will likely approve Arnold’s contract.

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