I have the great fortune of following two excellent City Managers – Darlene Burcham and Chris Morrill who, upon their departure left a City with a great sense of pride and possibility and a highly professional and competent City government. I, likewise, have been blessed with a Council committed to my success and that of the City and each of its residents and businesses. This context enabled me to spend the first few months of my time here in Roanoke gathering observations about the place I now call home and the organization that I lead. These observations were the result of hundreds of meetings; review of relevant plans, studies and documents; and numerous in-depth conversations with elected officials, appointed officials, business and community leaders, city staff, and community members here in Roanoke.
In February, I presented an overview of these observations and my thoughts regarding how I intend to position the organization to be responsive to City Council’s priorities. Before I delve into this information, let me pause and state that, much to my pleasure (though not surprise), I have found a community and a City government with many more areas of excellence and opportunity than areas in need of replacement or improvement. Is there room for enhancement? Sure. Are there opportunities to do some things better? Absolutely. Are there some serious challenges? No doubt. But the good news is that we will address each of these starting from a position of strength!
Observations Regarding Roanoke
In addition to recognizing the strengths noted, I find a community working diligently with its regional partners to grow and expand economic opportunities; a community with dozens of dedicated non-profits responding to a myriad of interests; and a community with a vibrant downtown, strong and unique neighborhoods, and a greenway system that links many of them together. I also find a community where not everyone is sharing in those successes. A community where some neighborhoods don’t have ready access to basic amenities, such as a grocery store, and where, perhaps at times, we depend too often on the State or Federal governments to solve our challenges.
My observations have found an organization with a dedicated group of hard-working professionals that work every day to keep us safe, provide us with learning and recreation opportunities, and that provide us with the high quality facilities and services that we depend upon. I also find City plans that will benefit from updating, challenges in generating enough revenue to deliver services that meet the expectations of our community, and opportunities to improve communication.
Perhaps most notably, I have observed a community and an organization with a sense of optimism and momentum that should not be taken for granted or undervalued. These characteristics have helped the Star City succeed for many generations and they are critical to our ongoing success and ability to address our community’s challenges.
What do I propose to do?
So, with the aforementioned observations in mind, what do I propose we do? Let me first explain the framework within which I believe we are, and must be, working within:
- Regional long-term and high-impact: Together, the surrounding towns, cities, and counties in Virginia’s Blue Ridge are working to make certain that this area is the premier place to live, conduct business, work, raise a family, and visit. It is these efforts that will make lasting and radical changes possible with economic opportunities and livability. These efforts represent the long-term game-changers for the area.
- Strength from within: While we all work together to make our region as strong as it can be, equal effort and resources must continue to be directed to building our strength from within. Each of our neighborhoods, business corridors, and special places must be, regardless of their physical location, where our residents and businesses have the best opportunity to succeed to their fullest potential.
Within this framework we will focus on five strategies that will guide our actions:
- Prioritize – Time, money, and attention
- Take Strategic Action – Everything should progress toward stated objectives
- Seek and Enhance Collaborative Partnerships – We cannot and should not do this alone
- Innovate – New ideas, new approaches, new partners
- Empower Organization – Free up talent, time, money and resources within the city government
I genuinely believe that by ensuring our actions are aligned with these strategies, we can achieve the Council’s priorities and meet the expectations of the community in the most efficient and effective manner practical. I am confident in this belief because my observations have noted a strong, vibrant community that comes together to tackle difficult challenges and that has, for more than 100 years, been the shining star (city) within Virginia’s Blue Ridge!
I look forward to sharing more about this journey in future posts over the next several months.
- Bob Cowell
View the City Manager's Report to City Council from Feb. 5, 2018 (PDF)