COVINGTON -- Mayor Ronnie Johnston has identified his top three priorities for the city of Covington in 2013.
In response to a request by the Citizen, Johnston named his top priorities and what he considers the biggest challenge of the year.
The three priorities are: Reaching a resolution to the city manager search; political relationship building; and changing or adapting for success.
Johnston said he hopes the city manager will be selected by a unanimous vote of the City Council, or at least by majority vote. "Should a split decision or tie vote be reached, no appointment should be made, as any candidate that is appointed deserves a majority vote and the clear support of the governing body. Failure of a qualified candidate to garner the majority support of the governing authority should result in the entire selection process being re-done to include new advertisements for applicants and interviews of new candidates," Johnston said.
The City Council is meeting this week to interview eight candidates for the job, and Johnston said he hopes to have the field narrowed to the top three by the end of the week.
As for political relationship building, Johnston said he'd like to see a series of meetings to improve professional relationships among the mayor and City Council members and the Board of Commissioners, other municipalities, the Water and Sewerage Authority and the Board of Eduction. "The specific purpose of the meeting series would be to build trust, understanding and to some extent common interests among all political parties," he said.
Finally, Johnston said he wants to "seek new and innovative was to improve our community and help it become more successful."
"To do this, we need to identify other cities and towns that are attractive, that have the qualities that we want to have locally, and whose local economy is stronger than the national economy; find out what makes those other cities successful and, where possible, apply their success measures here; search for and hire consultants to assist with local process improvement efforts aimed at making Covington a more attractive and vibrant city," he said.
As for the biggest challenge ahead, Johnston believes it will be overcoming the continued stagnation of the economy and the overwhelming need locally for jobs.
Federal and state funds have been declining for years, he said.
"If we are to get out of this economic hole that we are in, as local governments, we have got to stop complaining and as the old saying goes, we've got to 'pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.' And to do that, we have got to become, to some degree, risk takers and develop new interests in new ideas and new ways of operating our local governments."
Johnston said that while collaboration is an old buzz word, most local governments probably only give half-hearted effort toward participation in collaborative efforts.
"This is especially true if the main need to be worked on is not theirs or their idea. Many probably participate in collaborative activities because it looks good and not because it can really be beneficial for all involved," he said. "Well, guess what, we are at the point where half-hearted efforts will not cut it anymore. In fact, they may actually cost us money and precious time with little or no return on our investment. To be successful, we have got to go 'all in' with collaboration and really support efforts that promote money saving or money making through joint purchasing efforts, product sales such as compressed natural gas as an alternative vehicle fuel, utilities and spec buildings for economic development opportunities, and community-wide marketing campaigns, just to name a few areas where collaborative partnerships can be productive and successful. Though it may make some people nervous, successful economic collaborative efforts may call for the combining of some governmental activities such as call taking and customer service activities, purchasing operations, planning and zoning, engineering and possibly other operations.
"The economy and our respective operating environments have changed for good," he continued. "Some people say we are moving toward the 'new normal.' If true, we've got to change too, and if we don't, we are going to continue to get farther and farther behind. Ultimately, we have got to tear down the silos and quit caring who gets the credit, and really start working together. Improvement of, for, and by all local governments within Newton County is what we need."