08/08/11 — New Goldsboro city manager officially takes post this morning

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New Goldsboro city manager officially takes post this morning

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on August 8, 2011 1:46 PM

Thousands of Goldsboro residents went back to work today, but probably no one had as much on his plate as Scott Stevens, who started his first day as the new city manager.

He finds himself in the middle of having to hire two department heads, making plans for a new Air Force museum and continued downtown development efforts while the Wayne County flirts with double-digit unemployment. Its a rough way to start a job, but Stevens says he is prepared for the day-to-day challenge of running the city.

Stevens said he has kept in contact with staff members at City Hall and has followed the newspaper to keep himself informed and prepared.

He said his first priority will be hiring a new police chief to fill the vacancy left when Tim Bell retired March 1. Stevens said he has met with interim Police Chief Jeff Stewart and that he believes the department is in good hands until a permanent hire is made. He said he is comfortable with the hiring of a parks and recreation director by interim City Manager Tasha Logan.

"(Tasha) and I talked in June and she asked me (about the parks and recreation director job) and I said my first month there is going to be busy enough as it is, so why don't you move through the process," Stevens said.

But that didn't mean Stevens wanted to be a non-factor in the hiring. He requested to meet with the finalists once the process had left just two candidates to gauge whether the personalities of the directors would mesh. That process, he said, occurred while he was in town for the council meeting July 18.

Stevens also said he is not concerned about the decisions of the council concerning other hot-button topics in the past five months, especially the $500,000 purchase of the building at 2406 E. Ash St. from the Arts Council of Wayne County, possibly to be used to house a future Air Force museum. Stevens said he understood that the building would likely not be on the market for long, and saw no issue with the investment, which he was told is a very low risk for the city.

"Do you put business in the city on hold for six months while you hire a city manager? I'm glad they considered that, but the manager works for the mayor and council. As long as they're comfortable making that decision on whatever topic it is, and from the Air Force museum side -- based on conversations don't think they've done anything that concerns me at all, particularly if the market, in their opinion, is such that if it doesn't make sense in six to 12 months that we can sell it and recover our investment.

"Also since it comes from money set aside that was really earmarked for something like that, it's a fairly low risk to the city."

Stevens said he has heard that a department of concern for the City Council in recent years has been parks and recreation, due to the director's position being almost a revolving door. Five different directors have run the department since 2008.

"They're concerned with turnover and want to make sure it's meeting the needs of the community, so I'll spend time getting into the parks. That's a concern to council that I will spend as much time in as anything in my early days," Stevens said.

And as far as the controversial Park Avenue gates at Herman Park are concerned, Stevens said he supports the council's decisions, citing the adage that hindsight is always clearer than foresight.

"The gates are a little more expensive than we had hoped, but it sounds like a reasonable compromise," he said, adding he didn't have enough knowledge about the closing of the gates to second guess the situation. "People have made the best decisions they could at the time. It's easy to sit six months, two weeks later and say that wasn't a good decision. It's easy to see after the fact."

As former city manager of Kinston, Stevens is familiar with many of the same problems facing Goldsboro.

He said he plans to study the city budget until he knows it inside and out.

"Next year this time I'm going to understand it as well as anyone," he said.

Stevens said finding the most efficient way to provide services to citizens is important, but said he has a lot of faith in the city's department heads to assure that every dollar well spent

"It's easy to look at a large number and say there must be waste in there somewhere," he said. "In government we are so often under scrutiny. We're doing the public's business, but it takes money to do that. It takes money to do what we do as a government."

Stevens noted that many of the services provided, including fire and police protection, are mostly personnel services, meaning severe cuts would lead almost certainly to layoffs. Utilities make up a large portion of those budgets as well.

"You can't turn the lights on if you can't pay the utility bill," he said. "It's a small amount you have an influence on. We're told to cut services until we cut something (the citizens) like."

With the recent revaluation of property now complete, Stevens said he isn't interested in increasing taxes or fees. But he said he hopes to be able to find a way to improve the salaries of city employees,

"I'm going to be making sure I can defend every dollar," Stevens said, while noting at the same time that city officials have to keep salaries competitive in order to keep experienced workers. He said the city's decision to give employees a $750 bonus this month was a good way to increase morale without permanently increasing personnel expenses.

With bids on the first portion of a Streetscape project in downtown set to open Aug. 29, it's obvious Stevens is stepping into a management role in a city that is aggressively cultivating its downtown, and that fits just fine for Stevens, who is leaving a city that has invested heavily in its city center as well.

"Downtown is what people think of your city a lot of times," he said. "And to have a good, vibrant downtown it takes money, but it also needs to have some private investment."

Stevens said Kinston had based much of its downtown development projects on Goldsboro's model, looking to the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. for ideas on how to pump up its downtown, but he pointed out that all of Kinston's success was dependent on private investment, just as much as Goldsboro's was.

"It has to go together. If there is no interest from the private sector, it won't work. You need to have both," he said.

Stevens said he expects it to take several months before he has a better grasp on what changes he might suggest.

"I'm not coming in to change (the city) on day one," he said.

When asked where he would like the city to be in a year, Stevens said he would like a focus on appearance.

"Appearance and perception for a city is important," he said.