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New chief administrator feels right at home

| Thursday, June 28, 2012, 3:55 a.m.

Donald Pepe takes a lot of pride in local government and hopes that feeling will carry over to the people of Murrysville.

Pepe, 49, became the municipality's new chief administrator May 21 after two years as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League's Central Penn Division in Altoona.

But before that, Pepe spent the better part of seven years as manager of Richland Township, a community of 13,000 located near Johnstown. He longed to get back to that line of work.

'I really missed it a lot,' Pepe said. 'After a period of time I realized I missed local government, I really did. I wondered if that was going to happen, and it did. There's just something about the day-to-day operations of a local government that I find attractive.'

There was an opening in Murrysville, and his interest was piqued. A trip through the municipality impressed him, as did Mayor Ruth Fowler, so Pepe decided to take a stab at the position.

What followed was an extensive interview process.

The first portion involved question-and-answer sessions with three separate groups, conducted in 25-30 minute spans all in one night. One committee included members of council, another community leaders, and the third the borough's personnel board.

Next up was a problem-solving mission that involved the municipality's directors. Conflicting opinions by the directors were presented to Pepe, who had to attend a mock staff meeting, solicit input from the directors and decide on a course of action.

'I really enjoyed it,' Pepe said. 'I didn't expect to enjoy it at all, but I really did. Not only was it a good experience because the people were nice, but the process went so well. It was a great experience. It was quite a daunting process, but I really believe that helped me get a better feel for the community as well as the community getting a better feel for me.'

Pepe, who was selected out of 38 applicants, replaces Michael Hoy, who left Jan. 2 to become municipal manager of South Fayette Township.

In the interim, John Frydrych, director of engineering, was the acting chief administrator. Diane Heming, Murrysville's finance director, served the municipality as assistant chief administrator.

'They did a great job,' Pepe said. 'I'm really pleased. I've never come into a situation where I've had the quality of department heads that I have here. That was a strong draw.'

A chief administrator is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the municipality. The duties include planning, directing and coordinating a variety of administrative functions. The chief administrator also supervises six departments and 40 municipal employees, creates the annual budget and acts as secretary to council.

'You've got to be a jack-of-all-trades,' Pepe said. 'Unfortunately, you're never going to be a master of everything.'

Pepe said his goal in his new job is threefold: serve the community and its interests; serve council and its interests; and be able to do what's best for municipal employees.

'I want to develop a real strong trust level with council so they can trust me and I can trust them,' Pepe explained. 'There's some ground rules you need to set in regard to how you operate. You have to know how information is going to flow so you can be effective.'

Pepe is in the process of moving to Murrysville from Johnstown, where his family has lived since 1992. He and his wife Nancy have two children, Jason, 25, and Jackie, 18. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from St. Francis College in Loretto, Cambria County, and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Dayton.

He's always been a person who is active in the community. Pepe has served in March of Dimes fund-raising campaigns as a past board member and as a councilwide training chairman for the Penns Woods Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also is the past president of the East Hills Business Association and has served on the board of directors of Crimestoppers of Cambria County.

He hopes to continue that community spirit in Murrysville. He looks forward to interacting with children in the district's schools to teach them about local government, targeting fourth- and fifth-graders for local government day activities to help them 'understand the process.'

In fact, he looks forward to building a strong bond with residents throughout Murrysville.

'We affect their lives everyday,' Pepe said. 'We have a lot to do with what happens to you in your everyday life. Most people don't understand that. I love to get involved in the community. You'll see me a lot. I want people to know how we operate, to know that they can affect how we operate. I want people to be proud of how things are done here.'

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