What I’m listening to – Fireworks from neighbors’ driveways and backyards.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus has been quoted saying “Change is the only constant in life.” With each ebb and flow in life, this quote follows us, acknowledging that we can never become too complacent and that strategy must be an ever-evolving target that we strive to match to our current situation. And in some ways, change itself is the strategy. Before I started my position as City Manager in Newberg, Oregon, the City Council laid out five goals for 2020 that include transformation of the City organization’s culture and advancing long-range plans. The specific goals include: 1) fostering an operational culture of customer service, 2) cherishing diversity, equity and inclusion in our culture, 3) development of affordable housing, 4) creating an urban renewal authority, and 5) creating a sustainability program.
Currently, the City has three interim department head positions as well as management positions we are looking to fill. In addition to the five City Council goals, Newberg has recently completed some visionary planning focused on community and economic transformation. The community engaged in a sustained planning effort that resulted in a 2040 vision plan called A newBERG Community Vision. The plan lays out five core focus areas that will help Newberg become the “Gem of the Willamette Valley.” The focus areas are community engagement, community leadership, cultural assets, economic development, and livability & development.
Compound these City Council goals, open department head positions, and a new community vision with a worldwide pandemic and a newly energized conversation around race, equity, and justice and what is created is a whirlwind of opportunity. In Newberg, we have an abundance of chances. In Newberg, we are surrounded by beginnings. I started my first City Manager position two weeks before COVID-19 required the closure of City Hall and most of our operations. In a weird way COVID-19 has given me a chance to focus without the inherent distractions of the first months of a new job that are filled with a lot of meetings and learning. I have been able to learn and get out there – in a physically distanced way of course.
The opportunity before the city organization is clear, we have to do better for our residents by doing better. We have to work together and to communicate our willingness to serve one another and our residents. COVID-19 has afforded me a chance to develop relationships with our department heads and to learn our operations in a quieter but intentional way. I have been able to meet key community partners via Zoom or other remote platforms and to dig in on some of our key goals.
At each City Council meeting we reserve a portion of the business session for a City Manager’s Report. This ritual is an opportunity to free form and share information about what’s going on or what I am thinking. In Newberg, we meet twice per month and I have used the time to opine on racial justice, as a chance to list off the accomplishments of the various City departments, and to report on progress of innumerable projects.
I use the City Manager’s Report once per month as a written summary of the various work that City staff have under way in support of those goals. It is an impressive body of work and I am proud of the creativity of our staff to pivot operationally during COVID-19 closures and still serve. We are making steady progress on some very big goals.
Newberg is an organization improving. The staff is doing great work and we are listening to our internal and external customers to build partnership on important long-term work. There’s a lot of really challenging work ahead on some incredibly important projects that will transform the community. It’s exciting work and I am lucky to get to lead at this time. I am lucky to lead at a time when change is not a question. Heraclitus has also been quoted saying “It is in changing that we find purpose.” Rather, change is a constant, opportunity is a constant, and creating better communities means evolving and adapting. Here in Newberg, I think we’re up to the challenge.