City Manager's Blog

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

Feb 22

What’s Next?

Posted on February 22, 2021 at 2:26 PM by Melinda Mayo

Eventually we will move beyond COVID-19, or at least determine a safe way to live with it.  Hopefully, we will also figure out a way to govern in a manner that does not require vilifying one another.  And perhaps we will finally chart a meaningful path forward, acknowledging the damage of racism and the need to advance on authentic equity.  So, what’s next?  How do we regain our economic momentum and make ourselves, our households, and our Community more resilient? And how do we right the wrongs of the past and present?

I don’t have all the answers to these vital questions, but I will use this post to explore some ideas and thoughts. Fortunately, many of the possible actions address more than one of these challenges. After all, in many ways they are deeply intertwined.

Lead and Support

All of these challenges (though I prefer to view them actually as opportunities to work together toward a new and better future) require bold leadership, along with unwavering support.  In some instances, the City may be the appropriate lead where in many, the City is best serving a supporting role.  Leaders willing to identify what needs to be addressed and not satisfied with just moving on, are required.  Leaders willing both to speak truth to power and also to use power for positive change are essential.  Leaders are needed from our business sector—small and large, from our government, our non-profits, places of worship, families, and anywhere else where real solutions can be identified and debated civilly and then, where appropriate, acted upon.  Most will not lead, rather they will be called upon to support idea creation, civil debates, funding, volunteering, and more. These will all be necessary for real and lasting change.


Much of our efforts need to address well-being—that of our neighbors, our households, neighborhoods, and Community.  The impacts of the pandemic have been deeper and put a heavier strain upon certain segments of the Community, in great part because not enough attention has been focused on disparities that exist—disparities in health outcomes, educational attainment, opportunity, etc.  

All too often, there is a greater focus on scoring a political victory over the other side, than working together for the betterment of the Community.  We won’t always agree on strategies or tactics, but we need more often to seek agreement on goals and objectives, and work from there—together, with our differences.

We cannot have only some of our neighbors fully engaged in our growing, succeeding Community.  We cannot have neighbors who live a decade or more less than others, largely due to the zip code for the area where they reside.  We cannot have neighbors who have less access to education, employment, or opportunity due to their race, physical ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  For us as a Community to truly succeed, every one of our residents, businesses, households, and neighborhoods must have the same opportunity to try to succeed.

Evidence-Based and Measured

 To build a more just, equitable, and resilient future, we must work with facts (they do exist!) and use evidence-based solutions that have proven to work elsewhere in communities facing similar challenges or presented with comparable opportunities.  We must regularly measure what we are seeking to achieve or overcome, and adjust accordingly when we see our efforts falling short.  Only with intention will meaningful change be achieved.

What is needed next is agreement that we need to work together to make ourselves, our neighbors, and our Community more resilient, better off than we are currently, and that we will work within the boundaries of facts and evidence.  If we can do this, we just may be a part of building a better new normal, and that is a next worth working toward!

-- Bob Cowell

Feb 16

When We Work Together

Posted on February 16, 2021 at 4:44 PM by Melinda Mayo

Probably more than any time in recent memory, over the course of the past year we have witnessed various segments of our Community come together to address a myriad of issues:  From virtual learning academies to help children required to learn remotely to ensuring the most in need have access to food; and from fundraising to enable completion of the largest playground in the City to church members helping their fellow congregants get pre-registered for the COVID-19 vaccine.  I wanted to use this post to highlight a few recent examples of City employees working together for the betterment of the community.

Fostering a Firehouse Dog

Over this past weekend, the Trojan Dog sculpture was returned to its home in front of the newly constructed Fire Station 7 in Grandin Village.  For more than a year, the sculpture has been resting in front of the Raleigh Court Branch Library under the watchful eyes (and care) of library staff.  The return trip was itself a partnership of Fire-EMS personnel, neighbors to the fire station, and local media.  

Answering the Call

Last week staff from the Main Library and Melrose Branch along, with the City’s COVID Support Specialist, spent a portion of Friday morning answering phone calls, helping residents get pre-registered for upcoming neighborhood COVID-19 vaccine clinics. The clinics are a collaboration between the City, the local health district, and dozens of Community members and partners.  This effort was further supported by the Community Engagement Manager and Emergency Management personnel, and will help ensure 200 of our elderly neighbors gain timely access to the vaccine.

Going Digital 

Last week also saw the opening of the Crystal Spring Library E-branch, the first of its kind in Virginia.  This facility was the result of collaboration between the Libraries, City Engineering, and residents from the surrounding neighborhood, and eventually will include further collaboration with the Arts Commission and area youth.  This collaboration has resulted in increased access to library products and services in an area long lacking such services.

These are but a few of the most recent examples of teamwork among various City employees and departments.  It is an honor to work alongside so many employees dedicated to serving the public’s interest and well-being.  As has oft been said, actions like these are what makes this Star City an All-America City!

— Bob Cowell

Feb 08

History in the Making

Posted on February 8, 2021 at 2:56 PM by Melinda Mayo

February is recognized and celebrated as Black History Month, where we pause and take some time to acknowledge the contributions made by African Americans throughout the history of our nation, as well as here locally, in Roanoke.  There is much to celebrate and honor—the contributions of such local notables as Mayor Noel C. Taylor and Principal Lucy Addison are but two examples worthy of such recognition. In this post, however, I would like to take a few moments and recognize those in our community who are currently making history.  Not surprisingly, there are many, so those that follow are a representative list not an exhaustive one, and I apologize to those not included.

Star City Shout-Out 

For the past several months we have been recognizing the contributions of residents in our community via a social media campaign known as Star City Shout-Out.  Many of those featured have been Black youth from our community.  Most recently, Jayveon Tucker—a Sophomore at Patrick Henry High School, a youth leader, community volunteer and civil rights activist.  The campaign has also included John Miller-Penn, Brianna Wilson, Yolanda Joseph, Angela Grace Penn, Kennady Wade, Alexandra Rogers, Daphnie Joseph, London Paige, Treya Gunn, Safiya Wimberley, Joshua Elliott, and Christion Bryant.  These youth, are scholars, athletes, thespians, entrepreneurs, activists, and leaders.  All are making history in our community and no doubt will continue to contribute in great ways in the years ahead.

Arts and Culture

Roanoke is well known as the regional center for arts and culture and is home to a vibrant Black arts and culture scene.  This was most recently on display with the "We are Art" rap cypher--a collaboration of a collection of incredibly talented artists, the Grandin Theater, Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center, and the City Libraries.  This latest display of talent joins other contributions by local artists such as the “End Racism Now” mural painted on Campbell Avenue this past summer, the annual Take Back Our Yard Street Festival organized by Roanoke’s Tommy Page, performances by a number of spoken word artists including Ashley Rhame, Monique “The Plus” Poet, and others, and so much more.  Black culture is alive and well in Roanoke, and continues to add vibrancy to our City.


Along with the youth noted earlier and the artists mentioned above, there is an ever-growing number of Black leaders in our community, taking their place in shaping our City.  Some are business leaders, some community activists, and others lead congregations and organizations, each making their contribution.  Xavier Duckett with his youth development program at Humble Hustle and its associated clothing line Hmble Hstle, Ashley Pannell and her girl empowerment program, Pretty Humble, Cheryl Mosley with the Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center and owner of Delish! Sweets and Treats, Charles Wilson, Jr., Lead Pastor at the Hill Church, and Jordan Bell, neighborhood activist and local historian are just a few of these notable leaders.  There are many, many more!

While we are right to celebrate those African Americans that long ago made history and helped build this nation and community, we are privileged to be living among so many in our community that are writing today’s history. That is something worth recognizing and celebrating!

— Bob Cowell