Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum Mansfield Mayor William Cocchi, here pictured with his Georgia Urban Forestry Council Award, has a down-home approach - he and his wife Lyra grow tomatoes from a plant right at the doorstep of City Hall.
MANSFIELD -- Nineteen years ago, William Cocchi saw some things in the small city of Mansfield that needed improving. So, he decided to run for mayor, never guessing that he'd devote the next two decades to the job.
"I guess I could plead temporary insanity," he said about the decision to take the top position in the sleepy town of about 500 people. Cocchi's retirement is effective Jan. 1, when new mayor Estona Middlebrooks takes the reins.
When Cocchi took office, Mansfield's electric system was on its last leg. He led the charge in revamping the system, obtaining new poles and transformers, replacing equipment as much as 40 years old. The city has also added 21 miles of water lines during Cocchi's term, moved from a one-room City Hall at the Community Center into a former bank and larger facility next door and added a storage area for city vehicles.
"All of this with no debt at all," Cocchi said, noting that, "We've always bare-boned everything."
City Clerk Pat Ozburn has worked with Cocchi his entire term.
"I have worked with him for 19 years and I have enjoyed it. He's been very supportive. I think of him more as a friend than as a boss," she said. "He has made himself familiar with everything that goes on in this city. He could run any department by himself."
A few years after Cocchi took office, his wife, Lyra, was elected to the City Council. She's served for more than a decade, and plans to retire when her term expires in two years. Though some couples might find it taxing to run a city together, the Cocchis say it's worked out just fine.
"We've always done everything together anyway," Lyra Cocchi said.
Asked what he plans to do after retirement, it's his wife who answers first: "More family time," she said.
Cocchi added that he'd like to fish and travel.
Cocchi said he'll miss dealing with citizens and employees most of all.
He won't miss, "getting called at 3 o'clock in the morning," he said. "But I've been fortunate. I've not had a whole lot of complaints. I have a good relationship with most of the people in Mansfield."
That relationship has extended to the City Council as well
"We've always been fortunate that the council worked together and we didn't have a lot of conflicts. I appreciate all the help I've received and the people who have worked with me and everything, the friendships I've made," he said.
Cocchi will end his political career on a high note: He recently received the 2011 Grand Award for Outstanding Elected Official from the Georgia Urban Forestry Council. Cocchi was recognized for forming and working with the Mansfield Tree Board to get Mansfield certified as a Tree City.
The city was a primary partner in the Making the Shade tree planting project at Mansfield Elementary School. The city also received a Keep Covington-Newton County Clean and Beautiful Greatways Grant for tree planting and a Georgia Forestry Commission Urban & Community Grant and is presently working to complete a tree inventory and long term management plan.