Helena Magazine

Better serving the people: Brian Puckett pursues municipal trainings to be the best mayor he can be

Published 3:19 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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Written by Donald Mottern

Photos by Jeremy Raines and Contributed  

The Shelby County Chamber held their annual Diamond Awards Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 7 last year. Among the list of the many nominees and award recipients that were recognized was that of Helena Mayor, Brian Puckett, who was openly presented with the distinction of being named the organization’s 2023 Public Servant of the Year.

Of the many factors that led to Puckett’s recognition with the award was his completion and receipt of the Advanced Certified Municipal Official designation from the Alabama League of Municipalities. That accomplishment was only made further impressive by the fact that Puckett was one of only 35 municipal leaders in the state to earn that designation in 2023.

It was a process that, on top of the requirements of holding the mayoral office, required many hours within classroom settings where Puckett was allowed the opportunity to learn from a variety of experts with experience and accreditations from across many areas of government and public service.

“You have to have a strong dedication to go get the class hours on top of everything that comes along with the everyday functions and operations of the city that I am responsible for,” Puckett said. “I will always be a cheerleader of education and bettering yourself in all ways possible.”

For each class, he and others were provided key insights on things that those in governmental service utilize each and every day. Such topics consisted of lessons in ethics, economic development, municipal law, public records, ordinance drafting and much more.

However, this recent education is only the next step in a long line, as Puckett has a strong history of partaking in continued education and pursuing the trainings and knowledge that will allow him to start each day better prepared to serve the city than the day before. In that spirit, Puckett also managed to secure the City and County Manager diploma from Auburn this past summer.

“I believe that education is paramount in everything I do and the decisions that I make for the city,” he said. “From the classroom education to having mentors, I always want to get as much information as possible when making any decisions. I always want to better myself so that I can be the best representative of the residents in Helena.”

Of the many facets of the program that Puckett values most are the many relationships he has managed to foster and grow throughout his involvement with the process.

“Bouncing ideas off of others that have been in the same place I am or who are currently in them has been extremely beneficial.,” Puckett said. “One of my biggest mentors, Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison, has come from this process. Knowing that I can text him when I need help, voice concerns or just being able to freely talk has been a blessing.”

As important as recognizing these recent accomplishments are, it is also important to note that this behavior is nothing new from Puckett, who has always worn his calling to serve others on his sleeve.

Prior to his election to mayoral office in August 2020, he was already a familiar face in the community, having started his active involvement as a volunteer with the Helena Elementary School PTO and expanding it with a subsequent membership on the Helena Beautification Board. Puckett was then first appointed to seat No. 2 on the City Council in order to fill a vacated seat for the remainder of a term. Then, when Mayor Mark Hall announced his intention not to run for reelection that next year, Puckett jumped at the opportunity.

“When the opportunity arose, I knew that there would be no more impactful way I could give back to the city I so dearly love,” Puckett said. “I had little experience in local government—no political experience—but I knew that as long as I surrounded myself with strong leadership for each department, I could put processes in place to become more efficient not only for today’s time but also for years to come. I always believe that you have to have proper planning, but also the motivation to successfully execute on that plan.”

In the time since first taking office in early November 2020, Puckett has found that what he most enjoys in the office more than he ever knew would be possible is the meeting of new people in the community he serves.

“(It’s) not just a simple passing of saying, ‘nice to meet you’, but having those conversations that allow me to understand the background, current and future of the people I am getting to know,” he said.

It is in these many meetings and conversations where he finds the drive that keeps him dedicated to the job, and when he encounters a citizen of the community who is displeased with a decision or who holds an opposite view, he allows that to serve as the inspiration for the pursuit of education and the hearing of all viewpoints.

“I will never claim to be an expert in anything and that’s why when things go good it’s strictly because of the team around me,” Puckett said. “I understand my balconies and my basements and know that I have to rely on those around me for advice and guidance.”

Those successes, which include the ongoing TAG Grant for Helena’s schools, the purchase of new fire trucks, numerous infrastructure improvements, lot repavings, strengthening city partnerships with the county and US Steel and the groundbreaking on a new municipal complex and town center have all been accomplished in Puckett’s first term of office, with many on that list having begun within his first year of office.

“It has taken a lot of time to understand the work/life balance of the role and I am always working to improve it,” Puckett said. “I have always worked long hours and this role has not been any different. I am not sure if I have had any week less than 60 hours since being elected.”

Puckett admits the fact that a good deal of those hours are self-inflicted, but he also remains steadfast in ensuring that the city’s mayoral office, which is technically a part-time position, be that, “on-paper only.”

“I am very much hands on when leading and managing the day to day operations of a city with almost 25,000 residents. Being the biggest cheerleader for our city is a juggling act in itself. As my daughters are getting older it has been nice to be able to have them by my side more and more and get to experience different things. My girls are most important to me and will always come first no matter what. I knew going into the position some of the sacrifices that would have to be made, but having a strong support system around me makes it more enjoyable.”

Shelby County’s 2023 Public Servant of the Year intends to continue forward and keep doing exactly what earned him that recognition in the first place. It is a plan that includes the pursuit of the city’s comprehensive plan voted into action in 2023, which spells growth and expansion without the loss of Helena’s “small town” charm.

“I think the developments that I am most excited about would first be the new city center with city hall,” Puckett said. “The village type atmosphere leans heavily into our vision of connectivity and nods. The mixed-use development will provide much needed housing options outside of the standard single-family house and the city center will bring an approximate $82 million economic impact.”

Helena’s new City Hall will not only provide the much-needed space that will allow for the better allotment of resources for city management, but will also provide space for staff to grow for years to come.

“We have run out of closet space to make makeshift offices in the building built 30 years ago,” Puckett said. “The thought in designing the building was to never have to build another city hall. The building will also house the new Senior area.”

Efforts toward Helena’s new City Hall also continue alongside other efforts like the city’s new sports and leisure complex, which will bring more fields and a continued connectivity of the city’s trail system and open green spaces.

For each of these large and visible projects, Puckett, as well as other city officials, also want the public to know that their other infrastructure concerns never fall on deaf ears.

“Anytime there is an announcement of a development, we hear people say to fix the roads and other infrastructure items,” he said. “Even though all of our main roads are either state or county, the city is working hard to make improvements. As you drive down Highway 261 from the Post Office to the main intersection you will see survey markers for adding an additional lane to assist with some traffic issues. But, the infrastructure improvement I am most looking forward to is the new main water line that will be installed down Highway 13 to the Cahaba River Park.”

Alongside this physical progress in the city, Puckett is already well underway in securing yet another program certification. Already, he is in the process of completing the necessary hours to gain the Emeritus level classification of the Certified Municipal Official program.

“I am always looking for new opportunities to be able to better educate myself to be the best leader I can be for the city teams and our residents. My love and passion is the city of Helena, the people and the prosperity of our great city.”

With the second half of his first term underway, nothing is on Brian Puckett’s mind more than being the best civil servant he can become.

“I never got into this role to go to higher offices outside of local government,” he said. “For me, it is simple… I love our city and will give it my all working for the people of Helena. I look forward to being in this role for years to come bettering the city, the people who live, work and play here—but importantly, bettering myself to help be a stitch within our community fabric.