9 Challenges Facing Worcester’s New City Manager
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Edward Augustus was publicly sworn in Tuesday to fill the city manager role on an interim basis for the next nine months. Stating he won't seek the permanent position, Augustus intends to return to the College of the Holy Cross where he recently served as director of the office of government and community relations.
As councilors look to find a permanent candidate, city hall will simultaneously face budgeting, hiring, contract negotiations, and the continuation of revitalization efforts.
The crux is the economy
“Augustus' challenge is to keep the momentum going,” said Paul Giorgio, publisher of Pagio Inc. and a GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™.
“As with any change, there will be hiccups along the road. Augustus said in an interview that his agenda will be what Mayor Joe Petty outlined in his inaugural speech last Thursday,” Giorgio said. “The primary focus of that is to create new partnerships in the city, so that we have a workforce that is ready for 21st century jobs.”
“Edward Augustus' role is being city manager,” said Councilor George Russell, contending that the new manager would serve the same function his predecessor did, interim basis notwithstanding. “You look at (former City Manager) Michael O'Brien's role nine months ago, his role wasn't sitting back and being a caretaker.”
Finances are key for many eyeing Augustus' coming tenure.
“The main thing is to continue all the work that's been going on under Michael O'Brien,” said Worcester Regional Research Bureau President Roberta Schaefer, emphasizing the latter's financial management skills. “(O'Brien) has done a quite remarkable job at city hall.”
“Out of the gate, he's got to begin preparation on the budget,” according to Tim Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. With the governor's executive proposal due late this month, budgeting for 2015 is “probably the single biggest thing he's going to have to grapple with.”
“Unfortunately for him, he comes in halfway through the budget year,” said Councilor Anthony Economou, “and has to start working on that (immediately).”
Councilor Sarai Rivera identified economic development as a chief challenge, including the creation of marketing plans for locations like the South Worcester Industrial Park, an 11-acre brownfield site slated for reuse.
Continuing the redevelopment of projects like North Main Street and CitySquare — both highlighted in Petty's inaugural address last week — are a priority according to Schaefer and others. “Those programs that the city has control over ... (Augustus needs to) make sure he sees those through to fruition,” Schaefer said.
Economou led with the economy as well. “For me, it's to make sure economic development continues forward.”
“Maintaining the momentum behind economic development projects moving forward will be big,” agreed the chamber's Murray. “That's one of the reasons the council picked him. ... He's got a lot in terms of economic development. He can bring knowledge and continuity to the role.”
“He's not starting from scratch,” Murray added.
Also: Neighborhoods and schools
Rivera tallied neighborhood development as another challenge: “Revisiting some of the neighborhood plans done throughout past years to update and work on,” working with neighborhood schools and agencies as part of the conversation.
She also pointed to continuing to support public safety and public service, “especially in regards to keeping foot patrols in needed areas.”
“Obvious things are ones that we keep working on right along,” such as public safety, Russell said, but “I'd like to see more of a focus on neighborhood issues,” including both poorer neighborhoods faced with economic challenges and suburban areas often overlooked.
Russell called Augustus the “perfect guy” for that role, having previously worked at the college getting students to volunteer in their neighborhood. “That's the kind of thing we need in the city.”
Councilor Frederick Rushton identified school renovations, completing CitySquare, and settling union contracts as the top three coming challenges.
Budgeting and bargaining soon loom
Economou also cited the upcoming task of collective bargaining with union city workers. “One of the challenges will be the contracts,” Economou said. “I imagine it's on his radar, to get those discussions going.”
While the city will expectedly face a shortfall once budgeting begins, some say O'Brien's work has substantially reduced that hurdle.
Schaefer prioritized continuing to forecast long-term and following the city's five-point financial plan under new management. “That's the number one priority, and it has made Worcester a standout of a city of its size and tax base,” she said.
Augustus is only the city's sixth manager, following O'Brien's 10-year tenure. The former manager announced his departure last November for a job with a private real estate developer.
Augustus, a former Worcester school committee member and state senator, officially took on the role January 5th.
Related Slideshow: 9 Challenges Facing Worcester’s New City Manager
Now the Edward Augustus is serving as City Manager for Worcester, GoLocal reached out to the city's leaders to find out what they believe are the biggest challenges Augustus will face in his new role.
Roberta Schaefer, former president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau:
Schaefer said continuing the sound financial management of former City Manager Michael O'Brien was the greatest task for Augustus. But in addition to financial questions, she called for Augustus to “follow the lead of Michael O'Brien, to make sure he represents all the interests of the city, as the CEO of the city.
Tim Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce:
In addition to budgeting and economic development, Murray pointed to fostering the business climate in the city. “Try to make Worcester as business-friendly a place as possible,” he said. Whether through permitting, customer service, or other incentive, “whatever we can do to make the city a supportive (place for business).”
Christopher Pinto, member of the Worcester Republican City Committee:
“Can he really do pension reform? Can he spare the taxpayers from more abusive taxes?” asked Pinto, who wonders what Augustus will do about the Responsible Employer Ordinance and how the new city manager will make appointments to boards and commissions.
Councilor Sarai Rivera:
Rivera points to economic development, neighborhood development, and continuing to support public safety and public service, as well as “working with private and labor to support the (Responsible Employer Ordinance) and look into an apprentice program.”
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