For any city manager, transitioning to a new city brings its own set of challenges. Doing so in the middle of a pandemic has only added to the challenges for Andrew White, but despite the complications, Powell’s newest city manager is settling in nicely to the role.
White began his new gig April 1, coming to Powell from Huron, Ohio, where he served in the same position. While the circumstances may be less than ideal, he said he is making the best of the situation as business moves forward for the city.
“It’s actually been pretty good, all things considered,” White said. “(City) staff has been available in-house, as well as remotely. Working with new technologies to introduce and get to know individuals have been helpful, something that might not have been possible just for a few years ago.”
White said that being able to work “within somewhat of a confined area” without the normal workforce in place, has allowed him to better focus on policies and getting to know the city while developing strategies moving forward to advance city council’s objectives.
Speaking with The Gazette in March, White said he was looking forward to getting to know city staff and establishing relationships upon beginning the job in April. While the quarantine period might limit other functions of the job, his ability to focus on those relationships more than he otherwise would have has been a silver lining of sorts for White in his initial weeks on the job.
“If you had an opportune time to make a career change, you probably wouldn’t want to do so during a pandemic flu,” White said. “But looking at the bright side of things, it has given me the opportunity to kind of get a method in place and really get to know the organization faster than I would have otherwise.”
As for the downside, of which the novel coronavirus has no shortage, White said being unable to meet with the external stakeholders — business owners, homeowners associations, and various civic groups in the community — is something he hopes he will be able to do soon when life returns to some sort of normalcy.
“All in all, I’m feeling very comfortable and excited to be in this position, and I’m really enjoying the work to this point,” White added.
In March, White highlighted various challenges that stood out to him when initially considering the job, specifically in terms of the city’s continued growth and congestion problems that plague the community. Asked about the effect the pandemic may have on his and the city’s ability to address those challenges head-on, White said that remains to be seen.
“I think it’s maybe a little too early to tell,” White said. “One of the things that I want to focus on is to try to get a handle on the assessment of what the financial impact to the operations is going to be. And then depending on what that demonstrates, we may have to make some modifications to the budget, potentially delaying certain projects.
“Right now, we’re anticipating there are going to be some reductions to the resources that are allocated by the city. There’s been a disruption within the economic base nationally, regionally, and here locally. We just don’t know how impactful that will be. But we’re anticipating looking at trying to come up with innovative ways to deal with the potential for a shortfall in our anticipated revenues for the 2020 budget.”
Asked if there is anything the city is working on to provide financial relief to its residents, White said those discussions have not yet been held.
“I think that goes back to a formal assessment and appreciation of what exactly the city as an operational business unit is working with,” he said. “The first commitment we would like to stand by is at a minimum, no citizen in the city should expect to see any loss of service during this time … the city’s commitment is to maintain its footprint of deliverable services, and to focus on maintaining those throughout the crisis.”
As for how he anticipates the city will have held up whenever life returns to normal, White expects Powell is well-suited to endure this struggle and whatever struggles may arise in the years to come as a result of this experience.
“We’re going through a difficult time, but based on numerous prudent steps the City of Powell has taken over the last 10 to 20 years, the financial stability of the organization is solid in terms of the ability to move forward with current services,” White said. “When we come through this pandemic, I think the city will be better off because of it. Both in terms of providing additional services and access to communications of the city, and also a whole new perspective on how to deal with these things in the future.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.