Thursday, September 17, 2009

Neighborhood groups jockey to get say for new city manager

Neighbohoods meet Colin Baenziger

Neighborhoods meet Colin Baenziger


A group of 15 representatives of neighborhood organizations met with Colin Baenziger & Associates the Florida firm leading the search for Roanoke’s new city manager. Baenziger was one of 15 firms that had responded to the request for proposal. None of the 15 were based or had offices in Roanoke. Councilman Rupert Cutler did not recall any of the responders coming from Virginia.

Council members Court Rosen and Rupert Cutler were there to assist or protect – not sure which. Cutler remarked at the conclusion that “this was the best input session of all.” It seems others were sparsely attended. The general public session Wednesday night yielded only 6 people. The morning business input session that included the Chamber of Commerce yielded 20 people.

The good, the bad and the ugly was brought up even about city government. One thing you can say about neighborhood groups they speak their mind. They’ve learned the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Organizations from downtown wanted to know what DRI (Downtown Roanoke Inc.) does with the extra tax assessed on downtown residents. The reduction in parking perks extended to new downtown residents was also a sore point.

Everyone took time to accentuate the positive aspects of living in Roanoke. All agreed that the city was just the right size with enough culture an activity to please everyone. They highlighted the market area, farmers market, Center in the Square, festivals, greenways, etc.

Attendees denounced any increase in the real estate tax. Keeping the tax rate stable was paramount to avoiding an exodus of new and existing residents to the county. The long running school performance issue was also brought up which was claimed to be one reason young couples with families move to the county.

The overarching consensus was that a new manager would need to build trust with the community. The discussion led to mention of a perceived lack of trust with both city administration and city government. Evelyn Bethel explained to Baenzinger how urban renewal decimated the black community and Gainsboro area. The Countryside Neighborhood relayed their experience with the secrecy behind the unsuccessful purchase for development of the adjoining golf course that effected their property values.

Besides the $21,750 Baenzinger is charging the city for his services Roanoke taxpayers will be paying the new city manager’s moving expenses. If the new manager stays less than a year Baenzinger will perform another search for free. If the manager leaves in the second year then he would charge for his expenses only. In addition the payment of moving expenses by the city would be refundable on a sliding scale should the new manager leave within a certain time period. All these details would be worked out in a contract.

Baenziger who will personally lead the search said he will “create a buzz and get the word out” about Roanoke with the input he receives. If a candidate is already registered with another “head hunter” there may be some revenue sharing to do. In any case 15-20 candidate references will be contacted that will include elected officials, external auditors, subordinates, and even some “backdoor” references. A background and credit check and peruse of newspapers will also be part of the vetting.

It will depend on a candidate’s situation whether their names would be disclosed once narrowed down. If an applicant is currently employed they may ask for complete secrecy. However, in Baenzinger’s most recent successful city manager search in Greensboro, NC he had one candidate who wanted total secrecy while another was fine with total transparency.

Councilman Rosen said he’d like to see a business candidate versus an experienced city manager for Roanoke.

Councilman Cutler added that there would be an overlap of a week with old and new city manager.

In the opinion of Carol Jacobs, Manager for the City of Stanton, California any overlap with a departing city manager under involuntary circumstances would be awkward. “I have worked in these kind of situations and it is very awkward,” said Jacobs. She explains that the new city manager needs to be able to establish themselves without the judgments and perceptions of the prior city manager – particularly if the exit of the city manager was not voluntary. “If someone is smart enough to be a city manager, they are smart enough to figure out the politics of the city fairly quickly,” said Jacobs.

Baenziger agreed saying that he had placed someone in a similar situation. Though it was not an involuntary leaving of a city manager it did almost result in the new city manager resigning before his first week was up. Baenziger said he received a call from the new city manager saying, “he did not think he was right for the job.” Baenziger suggested he tell the exiting city manager that if he needed him he would call. From that point on all went well and the new city manager was able to establish his own identity quickly as Jacobs had explained.

In a lighter moment when asked did he think some of the challenges facing Roanoke would be detrimental to finding a suitable city manager replacement? Baenziger answered, “city managers are inherently masochists … they think they can fix anything.”

Definition: “masochist” – A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Roanoke City Politics

Tags: , ,

Comments (3)


September 17th, 2009 at 6:58 PM    

Maybe there shouldn’t be ANY overlap.

Let the new CM come in and “Fix anything” without having it filtered through the outgoing administration.


September 17th, 2009 at 7:03 PM    

Yea, that was my hint.

Don’t risk any influence from old manager to new.


September 17th, 2009 at 8:43 PM    

I agree, the outgoing CM should be gone before the new manager comes in.

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