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December 10, 2014 Published in Editorials

Rocket Man

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Rashad Young, Alexandria’s City Manager, tendered his resignation this week after three years on the job. He has accepted the position of City Administrator for the District of Columbia in the new administration of Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser.

Mr. Young at 38 years old was the youngest Manager in the City’s history. He was the first African American to hold the position. Mr. Young had been a City Manager in Dayton, Ohio, and in Greensboro, North Carolina. He served about four years in Dayton and about two in Greensboro before coming to Alexandria. Earlier this fall it became known that he was being considered for a job in the Obama Administration. Negotiations for that job did not work out and he put out a memo to City staff indicating that he would be staying and was looking forward to working with them on solutions to the issues facing Alexandria. A few weeks later the opportunity for the position in the District came up and he accepted it. He will be managing a City with about ten times more employees and ten times the budget of Alexandria.

Mr. Young showed himself to have considerable capability. He is an innovator who is also accepting of innovations by others. He was willing to take on tough issues. He believed in a government that shared information with its citizens. He believed in fiscal discipline and in aligning the budget and plan of work for the City staff with the goals of City Council. He liked to look ahead at what was coming rather than just reacting to it. Unfortunately, his tenure here was too short to see if many of the proposed initiatives will bear results that are truly helpful. The recently formed Office of Performance and Accountability and the new Department of Project Implementation have, in reality, just started their work.

Mr. Young also has not been completely successful in selling Council on his ideas. Council members resisted, rightly in our opinion, the dramatic shortening of the budget process which Young proposed. They have also resisted, incorrectly in our opinion, the attempts he has made to set some new priorities in the budget itself in the face of accelerating deficits that are now requiring annual increases in the real estate tax rate.

We are also not sure that he has done enough to direct City departments to prepare for the challenges of fiscal austerity. Just asking City departments to cut 3% or 5% from their budgets across the board every year is not a viable long-term strategy for dealing with revenue shortages. The City Manager must demand setting of priorities even if Council is resistant. Also, allowing City department heads to undertake initiatives that have a high probability of increasing future costs is not acceptable.

City Council now faces the challenge of replacing Mr. Young just three years after hiring him. Will they take into account his innovations and require his successor to continue to implement them, or will they just allow his successor to set his or her course of action?  This is important because Mr. Young’s legacy is likely to be an agent of change. If his changes do not continue, then his footprints will become invisible.

When we remember City managers who have made significant contributions to the City, we tend to think of those like Wayne Anderson, Vola Lawson and Doug Harmon. These individuals were or became an integral part of the Alexandria community over a period of many years. The community had plenty of time to observe the Managers’ actions and to see the results.

We thank Rashad Young for his time in our city and for his many interesting and important innovations. We wish him well in his new position across the river. We wish he had stayed with us longer. As we have often observed, having ideas is not really very difficult. Taking the ideas and implementing them so they actually work is, in a well-known word, priceless.

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