February 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Staunton's new city manager

After six months of evaluating applicants, the Staunton City Council has chosen Stephen Owen to be the next city manager, effective March 12. Owen has been serving as town manager of Herndon since 2003, and now looks forward to serving in this "beautiful community," as he called Staunton. See newsleader.com. This sentence caught my attention, however:

As town manager, Owen recently guided Herndon through a controversial project that granted a conditional use permit for a taxpayer-funded day labor job site to operate on town property.

The problem was that the site used public funds to cater to illegal immigrant workers who lacked Social Security numbers and were therefore ineligible for regular wage jobs. Then-candidate for governor Jerry Kilgore got involved in that controversy in August 2005, and Herndon voters expressed strong opposition to the day-labor project when they elected a clean slate of council members last May. I used to go on bike rides along the W & OD trail that passed through Herndon; they have managed to maintain the flavor of the old town center while massive development proceeds all around it.

Speaking of controversy, the previous city manager of Staunton, Bob Stripling, was at the center of the flap involving the city treasurer and commissioner of revenue that reached a head in October 2005. Staunton was the first city in the United States to adopt the city manager form of municipal government, back in 1908. Unlike elected mayors, city managers are trained professionals who are supposed to keep politics separated from efficient management of local government, but it doesn't always work out that way.