DENHAM SPRINGS — For Jimmy Durbin, leaving his post as longtime mayor for the city is bittersweet. As he packed boxes of personal items and removed photos and certificates from his City Hall office — some of which have graced the walls for three terms as mayor — Durbin showed some sadness on Dec. 23 about his mayoral chapter ending.
“I’m leaving my family that I have been with for 12 years,” a saddened Durbin said about leaving behind the people who he said helped him through some of his toughest and brightest times as mayor. “It’s sad.”
“They care, and they know that I care about the city,” he said. “I will miss them dearly.”
But Durbin’s decision not to run for a fourth term as mayor was something he didn’t take lightly. The three-term mayor has seen the city through growing times, underwent treatment for cancer and said he now wants to travel and spend more time with his family.
“I’ve been on two vacations,” Durbin said about his time as mayor.
In the last few months, Durbin has been grooming incoming Mayor Gerard Landry and swore him in Dec. 22, he said. He said any mayor has a learning curve and must educate himself.
“You have to be educated; you have to be credible,” Durbin said. “You have to be ready to go.”
Durbin was instrumental in educating himself about the city’s problems and, as a lawyer, asked the tough questions, he said.
During his administration, he oversaw substantial water and treatment facilities changes and helped the city through a business boom and an influx of new residents and new housing.
“All of a sudden, I saw the needs of the city,” said Durbin, who, prior to his role as mayor, served on the City Council.
Durbin said that when he first started in the role of mayor in 2002, the city’s sewerage treatment plant was nonfunctional. As the new mayor, he appeared before the Department of Environmental Quality to answer for several violations received because of the failing system, he said. That he said, was one of his lowest points.
“I was baptized by fire,” Durbin recalled. In addition to the dysfunctional sewerage treatment plant, Durbin said the water and gas systems were equally nonfunctional and had to be quickly corrected if the city was going to continue to sustain the nonstop growth.
“We took the initiative to see these systems were improved,” he said. “Our utilities are now well into the 21st century.”
During his administration, the city added new water wells and water towers — all by leveraging utility bonds to generate the money, he said.
“We’re in fantastic compliance with all of these agencies now,” he said.
Water Department Superintendent J.J. Johnson called Durbin “hands on.”
“He had time for you,” Johnson said. “If you had a problem, he was always there to help.”
“You could just go in (his office) and talk to him,” Johnson added. “He was always a phone call away.
In addition to adding towers and wells, Johnson said Durbin was instrumental in adding new water mains and extending the city’s water service south of the city. He said Durbin also upgraded water lines and added more fire hydrants where they were needed.
“He was an all-around good mayor,” Johnson said. “We’re going to miss him.”
But while he was instrumental in making the changes needed to improve the city, Durbin credits the work of those around him, including city employees and the City Council, for their support and help.
For City Clerk Joan LeBlanc, Durbin’s departure will be tough, she said. The two have worked together for about 18 years, even before Durbin was elected mayor.
“He has a big heart, and he’s just become a good friend,” LeBlanc said. “He not only cares about the city, but he cares about every person he meets.”
LeBlanc said Durbin was always fair, nonjudgmental and always willing to help.
“He’s a person that you can rely on, and I’m going to miss that,” she said.
Soon, with new infrastructure in place, Durbin was able to attract new, major retailers, such as Sam’s Club and Bass Pro Shops to the area, a true high point in his career, he said.
“They liked what they saw,” Durbin recalled.
Retailers continue to open near Bass Pro Shops, and Juban Crossing continues to open new stores. Three additional hotels are slated to open in the coming years, bringing the total number of hotels to 10, he said.
“People don’t just build hotels,” Durbin said. “It’s proven that people like Denham Springs. We have everything a traveler through Interstate 12 wants to see.”
Just last month, Chick-fil-A became the latest hot spot to open just off I-12.
Durbin said he never imagined he would serve 12 years as the city’s mayor, but as he closes this chapter, he said the “future looks bright” and that the city is in an excellent financial position.
“I do hope that he enjoys his retirement,” LeBlanc said. “He did worry so much about this city.”