When serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph pled guilty last week to a series of attacks in Alabama and Georgia -- including the deadly blast that killed one person and injured 111 others during the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta -- it was particularly welcome news to one of Burlington's newest city employees. Gregory McKnight II, who started work last week as the new director of the Burlington Department of Code Enforcement, was at the 1996 Olympic Games at the time of the terrorist attack. In fact, he was the supervisor of public health in Centennial Park, and was responsible for overseeing the management of food safety, solid waste, sewage and the like.
"Atlanta was a very interesting learning experience," says McKnight, 35. "I never saw so much trash before in my life," he says of the largest and arguably most chaotic Olympic Games to date. The bombing notwithstanding -- park security was someone else's job -- he's proud of the fact that no public-health issues arose on his watch.
McKnight comes to Burlington from Denver, Colorado, where he worked for the last six years in that city's Neighborhood Inspection Office. Though his job here will likely be a bit calmer than his one-month stint at the Olympics, his responsibilities will be considerable. McKnight replaces interim director Gene Bergman in managing a city department that oversees everything from zoning permits to parking regulations to insect and pest control. The office also maintains an apartment registry of some 10,000 rental units, and is responsible for ensuring that those dwellings are safe and in compliance with all applicable building codes. Burlington's Code Enforcement Office has been in a holding pattern, of sorts, since the abrupt resignation in June 2004 of its director, Ray O'Connor, amid questions about the office's effectiveness.
McKnight says his first goal will be to "make sure everybody is on the same page," improve customer service, and make his staff more accessible and accountable to the public. As for what specific changes he might implement in the coming months, McKnight demurs that he's only been in the position a few days and is still learning the ropes. "I've been deluged. I'm just trying to keep my head above the top of the sink right now," he says. "But there are always ways of doing things smarter."