City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

Sep 26

Reassuring, Worrisome, and Hopeful

Posted on September 26, 2022 at 9:08 AM by Casey Lewis

Reassuring, Worrisome and Hopeful

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 108th Annual Conference of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in Columbus, Ohio.  For the first time since before the onset of COVID, I was able to join thousands of City and Town Managers, County Administrators, Assistant and Deputy Managers and other senior local government leaders from across the nation and elsewhere in the world.  As has been the case in the past, the opportunity was insightful and rewarding, offering many learning opportunities that I trust will continue to make me a better manager and benefit Roanoke and its residents.

This year perhaps more than any other year in the past, I found myself experiencing an interesting blend of reassurance along with apprehension.  More often than I can ever recall, the conversations in the halls, exhibit area, educational sessions and events were closely aligned.  Large, small, urban, rural, blue state or red state, U.S., Canada, New Zealand or Belgium – the concerns, challenges and opportunities were very similar – community by community.

Reassuring Company

It was reassuring to hear and take part in conversations and educational sessions where community leaders were grappling with many of the very same challenges as we are here in Roanoke.   For the most part, I knew this prior to the conference but there is something reassuring about hearing directly from fellow administrators that we are all engaged in the same struggles.   Homelessness, most especially those living out of doors, unsheltered is a challenge whether in communities in New York, Texas, Oregon or here in Virginia.  Gun Violence is wreaking havoc in communities from Minnesota to Florida and from Arizona to Michigan and all parts in between.  No community in attendance is able to attract and retain enough police officers, fire fighters, sanitation workers, engineers, accountants, landscapers and so on, to meet the service needs or expectations of their communities.  While budgets currently remain healthy, all recognize they are temporarily propped up by plentiful federal aid and are quickly being eroded by inflationary pressures and worse still, is the looming specter of a likely recession, even as most communities have yet to fully recover from the last major recession and certainly not from the economic impacts of COVID.


The apprehensive or disconcerting part was that along with each of these conversations and inside the workshops or at the general sessions, all present are applying mostly the same tools and interventions.  That is, we are all working diligently in much the same way to end homelessness, gun violence and address workforce issues in our community.   We are all preparing our budgets in much the same manner, anticipating the looming shocks and revenue losses.  While a bit reassuring that we are on the same path as most others, it is a bit worrisome that for most of these significant and critical issues, we as a society have yet to arrive at adequate solutions and interventions.  


I am reassured by the fact that thousands of administrators, elected officials, researchers, police and fire chiefs, outreach workers, clerks, supervisors and many more are all working toward meaningful and sustainable solutions, sharing lessons learned and continuously innovating new and better ways of doing things.  While quick and easy solutions may elude us at the moment, I am confident that real and lasting responses to each of the challenges are possible and assure you that I and each of the 1700+ employees of this organization will continue to identify, test, innovate, adapt and implement the best responses possible, in pursuit of the results we all seek.

- Bob Cowell

Sep 12

Getting Around Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Posted on September 12, 2022 at 11:15 AM by Casey Lewis

Getting Around Virginia’s Blue Ridge

At the recent celebration of the beginning of the shuttle to McAfee Knob, Dr. Ray Smoot, former Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation and current member of Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board stated something profound and though unintended, representative of a challenge for the region.  Dr. Smoot remarked that with the addition of the shuttle, Virginia’s Blue Ridge was more accessible by public transit than ever - it is now possible for someone living in New York or Boston to travel to our area and visit downtown Roanoke, Virginia Tech and even the top of McAfee Knob – all via publicly funded transit.  That is simply amazing!  Think about it, one can arrive by train (actually the same person could do so by plane, as well) and never need a car to access our vibrant downtown, one of the top University’s in the southeast and the premier recreation trail in the Nation, including the most photographed location along its 2,190 mile length!

A Group Effort

This is no small feat and should not be taken for granted.  For Dr. Smoot to be able to say what he said, required the participation and direct involvement (and in most instances funding) of multiple units of local government, several major institutions, a number of State Boards and Commissions and the federal government.  Mayors, Council Members, County Supervisors, City and County Administrators, State Senators and Delegates, U.S. Senators and Representatives, State Board Members and many more all had to come together to make this possible and all will need to remain focused and committed to ensure its long-term sustainability.

A Great Asset Highlights a Remaining Challenge

Indeed, this latest addition to our transportation and outdoor recreation inventory is remarkable and valuable.  Now for the challenge – should we not put just as much effort into ensuring that the residents in our region are able to similarly travel throughout our region to access employment, shopping, doctors, and recreation?  Should we not be just as intentional about enabling a resident living in Cave Spring, Daleville or Fincastle to travel to downtown Roanoke, Main Street in Salem, or Botetourt Center at Greenfield, via publically funded transit as someone from Boston or New York can to McAfee Knob?  This should not be viewed as an “either-or” question but rather a “both-and” challenge.  


Enabling this type of access will require no less effort and commitment from those same elected and appointed officials, boards, commissions and agencies.  Surely, if we can come together to make certain a traveler from New York can utilize public transit to snap a selfie at the top of McAfee Knob, we can do so to make certain a single mom can use transit to get their child to a doctor’s appointment at Carilion Clinic or to get to their job at Altec in Botetourt County, no matter where they live in the region.

How even more profound and remarkable it would be if at the next such celebration, we could say travel around our area was as easy and reliable as travel to our area?

- Bob Cowell

Sep 09

An Amazing Evening

Posted on September 9, 2022 at 11:43 AM by Casey Lewis

An Amazing Evening

Thursday September 8 was an amazing evening in Roanoke where community leaders, business owners, tourism officials and others gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge over the past couple of years, and most notably to celebrate cycling in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Quick Positive Impact

In just a few short months, the positive impact of Team Twenty24’s arrival in Roanoke has been extensive and amazing.  The Team, the most decorated women’s cycling team in America has elevated cycling in the area, contributed to the arrival of the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships in the Roanoke region – in which the Team won several awards, and helped spur the establishment of a new cycling team on the campus of Roanoke College!

An Evening of Amazing Women Athletes

The evening included a moving presentation by Kristin Armstrong, the most-decorated U.S. Women’s cyclist of all time with three Olympic Gold medals.  Ms. Armstrong shared her story, passion for cycling and for strong and successful women and how a strong and supportive community is essential to success in anything one undertakes.  She highlighted how Roanoke has been just that as Team Twenty24 has started their training here in Roanoke.

Kristin Armstrong’s presentation was preceded by Dr. Frank Shushok, Jr., President of Roanoke College who announced that Shelley Olds, Roanoke College Alumna and Olympic medalist will be coaching the newly established cycling team at Roanoke College.   Shelley shared an inspiring and humorous story of how she has already experienced the community that Kristin Armstrong spoke of, as she scrambled to prepare her new team for competition this weekend.

The evening concluded with a special presentation where Team Twenty24 General Manager, Nicola Cranmer welcomed two local Roanoke youth to the team – on the way to their own greatness!

Virginia’s Blue Ridge – A Cycling Destination 

Virginia’s Blue Ridge is indeed the Mountain Biking Capital of the East Coast and thanks to the great work of Landon Howard and his team at VBR and the amazing women associated with Team Twenty24, the region is headed toward firmly establishing a cycling reputation that is among the best in the entire Nation.  

Meet an Olympian

Residents have one more opportunity this week to celebrate cycling in Roanoke and to meet an Olympian!   Kristin Armstrong will be meeting community members Saturday September 10 from 10:00 am to Noon at Smith Park in Roanoke.  Please take a few moments and come meet this inspiring and accomplished athlete and help celebrate cycling in Virginia’s Blue Ridge!

- Bob Cowell