20-Under-40: where are they now?

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Photo by Robert Noles

Battles serves country, Opelika

By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Opelika Observer

As a Marine, he served his country in Iraq. Now, Matt Battles serves his city as Opelika’s Parks and Recreation municipal area supervisor.
Born and raised in Opelika, Battles now lives in the house he grew up in and bought from his parents.
“I grew up coming to the rec center when the pool was here and playing in the park. I went to Trinity School through sixth grade and then Opelika City Schools,” Battles recalled. “After high school, I joined the Marine Corps, went to (the) reserves, came back and enrolled in Southern Union (State Community College) and then was deployed to Iraq in 2007 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I came back in 2008 and enrolled at Auburn, graduated in 2010.”
Battles’ first job was working at the Opelika Sportsplex. Then, the position with the city opened up and that’s where he has been since 2012. His co-workers were the ones who pushed him to join the 20-Under-40 program. “Joey Motley (city administrator) told me about the program, and said, ‘you should do it.’ Then Sam Bailey, the director of park and rec, said, ‘you should do it.’ I signed up for it and got in.”
Battles was then a member of the Class of 2016. “I knew I would learn a lot about the city. I already knew a good bit because I work for the city, but it was interesting to go to all the different departments,” Battles explained. “What this class did was a lot of reporting. Going to city council meetings, interviewing department heads – more like a school almost.”
Each person in the class interviewed someone working for the city and reported back to the class. “I interviewed Mike Hilyer, director of Public Works and ESG Operations. After the interview, I came back and did a report to the class about what I learned about Mike and what that department within the city was responsible for.”
The group also had to each read a book about leadership and report on it. “I would have never read the book I read. It’s called ‘Backbone.’ Coming from a military background, it interested me. It is a book about the different non-commissioned officers throughout history with the Marine Corps, and examples of their leadership and how you apply it in everyday life.”
A mini session presented to the group by a member of the Dale Carnegie Training Course was something Battle really enjoyed. “The biggest thing I learned from him was how to greet people when someone gives you their business card. What you’re supposed to do is take the card and hold it, and look at it, and say the name at least three times during the conversation. Through that, you’ll remember the name easier, and it makes the person who gave you the card feel more valuable.”
Battles said the program is all about making connections and networking. “That’s how business works. That’s how the city works. It is all who you know.”
City employees that qualify are encouraged to go through the program. “One, it helps create better city leaders and for city personnel to know how the city operates,” Battles added. “It’s investing in your employees. A good business invests in its employees and invests in future city leaders.”

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