City Manager's Blog

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

Jun 02

A Path Forward?

Posted on June 2, 2020 at 10:41 AM by Melinda Mayo

Every Monday for the past three years I have posted on this blog, nearly without exception.  Typically, the weekend prior to each post, I sit down and compose the outline of the post, filling it in when I arrive at work early Monday morning.  That didn’t happen this week.  I was at a bit of a loss as to how best process all that has been going on.

Almost Too Much

Never in more than 25 years of working in local government, have I experienced anything like what 2020 has been thus far.  I have been in communities that have faced natural disasters, struggled with economic downturns, and wrestled with long-standing societal ills, but never all of the above, essentially at the same time.

Yet, here we are.  A pandemic continues to rage across our globe—more than 100,000 dead in the United States alone.  The national and local economies teeter on depression, with more than 40 million currently unemployed.  One of the largest floods we have seen in years occurred just a couple of weeks ago closing roads, flooding structures, and forcing evacuations.  Peaceful demonstrations and violent outbreaks are occurring across the Country as I prepare this post—actions prompted by the heinous acts of a few individuals who disgrace a profession intended to serve and protect, and a reality that too often who succeeds, who prospers, and even who lives is based upon the color of one’s skin.  

Three declarations of a local State of Emergency in the span of just a few weeks, unprecedented and nearly overwhelming.  I believe we are all trying our best to deal thoughtfully and constructively with each of these challenges—our public health officials, our health care workers, our Fire-EMS personnel, our Police officers, our news reporters, our state officials, our local elected officials, our local businesses, and our residents.  I know I am trying to do all I can to help this City make its way through these increasingly challenging times, to not only survive but hopefully be a better place, offering better lives for everyone.

We can and must figure out a way to address all of these challenges in a way befitting our great City.  One that is true and authentic to us as a community.  It will not be easy and I am not sure I even know what that path looks like, but nonetheless we must figure it out.

--Bob Cowell

May 26

2020 - The Year of Adaptation

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 9:28 AM by Melinda Mayo

It was during our ninth or 10th virtual church service this Sunday that I got the idea for this week’s post.  As the pastor started his sermon, he noted that the battery for the camera they were using to broadcast live via Facebook had only 38% battery left. He cautioned that we may lose the video feed midway through the service, but that we would just adapt if so, as the audio would continue.

Adaptation seems to be the order of the day for much of 2020.  Businesses have adapted to retain customers; people have adapted to working from home, others working in riskier settings; teachers, children, and parents have adapted to conducting school from kitchen tables and living room couches; side streets have been adapted for use as outdoor dining rooms; and the City has adapted how we continue to provide essential services with $10 million less in revenue than anticipated.

Moved Into Action

The speed of these adaptations has been phenomenal, and it will be interesting to see how many of them become part of the next normal.  I have seen people adapt to be more concerned about the fate of their favorite local restaurant or the elderly neighbor down the street.  I have observed patience and grace extended when previously it may not have been.  By taking advantage of livestreaming, it is reported that more people are participating in religious services than when churches meet in person.  More people are providing donations of supplies and money to help those in our community in need.  Artists have adapted how they reach audiences, and non-profits have adapted how they work together to deliver food, ensure medical care continues, and address a whole host of other concerns.

Struggling with Change

Of course, not all have adapted well.  Sadly, the amount of substance and alcohol abuse appears to be on the rise in our community, along with overdoses.  Each, no doubt, a consequence of isolation and the inability to adapt to a rapidly changing world.  We have all seen the news stories of those unable or unwilling to adapt, whether it be protests against restrictions intended to protect the health of our communities or refusals to abide by these same guidelines.

More to Come

Our time of adaptation is likely far from over.  We are just beginning to determine what might be next as businesses reopen and life proceeds toward our next normal.  Little will be as it was before COVID arrived, at least for quite some time.  How well we continue to adapt will likely determine how healthy we and our families remain, how successful our businesses and communities will be, and how quickly we can regain the momentum we had prior to the virus.  Near-term, this adaptation likely requires greater patience, greater grace for those around us, acceptance of diminished public services, and yes, even the continuation of physical distancing and the wearing of face covers.  

Perhaps through thoughtful and consistent adaptation in 2020, our 2021 will return some level of normalcy back to our lives and an ability to embrace a future of opportunity, versus one of fear and limitations.

— Bob Cowell

May 18

Small Details

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 2:44 PM by Melinda Mayo

This time of year typically turns to big things—that family summer vacation, large community events, grand celebrations, etc.  This year most of these, if not all, are unlikely to take place.  The past few months, however, have highlighted the significance of so many small details that may matter even more:  Giving a hug to someone in need, holding an elderly parent’s hand as they lie in a hospital bed, displaying a teddy bear in a window for children passing by to see, hearing clapping and singing from a veranda, eating dinner at a table in an actual restaurant, etc.

What Matters Most

We have quickly learned perhaps what matters most and how creative we can be with what we have within reach.  As I walk around my neighborhood- Raleigh Court/Grandin Village, I see some of what I have come to expect: Neighbors talking to neighbors, albeit now a bit further apart; flower gardens blooming; and children playing on sidewalks.  But I also now see yards and gardens that seem a bit tidier, fences with a bit of mending, and neighbors lingering in their talks a bit longer.  I have seen sidewalk chalk art and fences decorated with drawings of flowers and balloons, alongside the words “stay strong” and “COVID-19 go away.”  I have seen signs wishing graduates well and others thanking teachers.  I have heard music from guitars, drums, and saxophones played by folks sitting on their front porches, for all who pass by or for none other than the person playing the instrument.


What is remarkable is these small details, these little actions, have been seen worldwide—a reminder of our shared humanity as well as the scope of the current crisis.  In Italy, quarantined residents would nightly gather on their verandas to clap thanking health care workers, and then sing their national anthem, a show of strength and solidarity.  Brits went to their windows to “Clap for Carers.”  In Colorado, every evening at 8 p.m. neighbors step out of their houses and howl together.  The Pope walked the empty streets of Vatican City praying along the way.  And, of course, lights were lit blue around the world to acknowledge the essential work being performed by so many.  All small details with so much meaning.

At some point we all hope to return to some form of normalcy.  Though probably a bit different, the big vacations, celebrations, and events will return.  Let’s hope we don’t forget how important the porches, front yards, neighbors, hugs, quiet mornings, and the myriad of other small details were during these challenging times.

— Bob Cowell