Dave Ptak approaches his new job, leading staff for the city of Hastings, by enabling those around him.
Ptak became Hastings city administrator on May 11 following the May 10 retirement of former City Administrator Joe Patterson. Ptak had served as city attorney since 2013.
“I like to think we have good people in our department heads that are working here,” he said. “My job is to support them and make them successful because if they are successful then I’ll be successful and if I’m successful then the mayor and council will be and the community will be. We all support each other in one sort of a way or another.”
Ptak is a native of Norfolk and, prior to his appointment in Hastings, served as the Norfolk city attorney from 1981-1993 and worked as a general practice attorney in Norfolk, taking on the business that his father started in the city. Immediately before coming to Hastings, Ptak served as the legal counsel and vice president of human resources at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.
Taking over as city administrator was a natural evolution for Ptak as Patterson got him more and more involved in city business outside the normal purview of an attorney.
“It happened before Joe really even thought about retiring,” Ptak said. “It wasn’t planned by any means. It just kind of evolved. I couldn’t have walked into a better situation than working with Joe. He was a great administrator and he did a lot for the community and the community, I think, owes he and his wife a lot for all the things they’ve helped in Hastings. It was just one of those things, Joe must’ve been comfortable with me to start with because he started asking me to do certain things and I was more than happy to help him out. It just evolved that way.”
Ptak is a 1972 graduate of Hastings College and a former Bronco basketball player.
Returning to Hastings allowed him to reconnect with old friends such as Dan Yost, with whom he played basketball at Hastings College, as well as other friends still in Hastings or nearby communities.
“The world isn’t as great big of a place as you might think it is sometimes,” he said.
The decision to apply for the city attorney position in 2013 was an opportunity for Ptak to return to municipal law. It also was a chance to get closer to his oldest daughter, who was attending Hastings College at the time.
“At the time, my wife and I said, ‘How many more great adventures can we have in our lifetime?’ This is what I would consider to be a great adventure,” he said. “The most interesting thing she said to me when I mentioned this job to her, she said, ‘You know, I always expected you would end up back in Hastings.’ I said, ‘Why would you say that?’ She said, ‘Any time you had a chance to talk about Hastings and the time you spent there in college, you talked nothing but great things about it.’ So she said, ‘I’m not surprised at all.’ ”
Ptak’s wife, Gwen, works at Thermo King as a scheduler.
Ptak, who turns 70 in June, is older than his predecessor who just retired.
“I’ve never really thought about age as much as I enjoy what I do,” he said.
He realizes his role is as a transition administrator and a steady hand as the city continues its reorganization, merging city and utility operations following the passage of Ordinance 4473 in 2017. He has a two-year agreement and an option for two more.
“I think the mayor wanted me to be able to continue with the reorganization because of my involvement from the get-go,” he said. “When Joe talked to me about it and then he recommended me to the mayor and the mayor talked to me about it, who am I to say no at that point in time. I always like to leave a place better than what I found it and that’s really what I want to do here. Hastings is a great community with lots of great people.”
Change is difficult, Ptak said.
He keeps a cartoon at his desk depicting a speaker asking a crowd, “Who wants change?” Everyone raises a hand. In the next panel, the speaker asks, “Who wants to change?” No one raises a hand.
“I look at that as how most of us are,” he said. “Change is often times difficult because it’s different. If you get set doing things a different way, sometimes it’s very difficult to do that. Some of the newer hires the city has had, especially out at utilities — the power plant, our HR director and that have brought new perspectives to the city and they’ve caused us to have to look at things a little different than we always have. I think that’s been good. It’s caused us to examine some of the things we do and how we do it.”