New city manager reflects on first week at work

Published 6:12 pm Sunday, November 11, 2018

It’s been a busy week for Washington’s new city manager.

Since starting his position Monday, Jonathan Russell has been to three public meetings — the Washington City Council on Monday, the Washington Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday and the Washington Board of Adjustment on Thursday.

“It has been a full calendar this week, but it’s been exciting,” Russell said. “Everyone has been really receptive, friendly and great to work with. There’s a great work environment here and a real sense of team that’s been enjoyable to see.”

Hired by the Washington City Council by unanimous vote during the group’s meeting in October, Russell says that he hopes to continue the momentum of the positive things happening in the city.

“There’s a great foundation to build on,” Russell said. “I’ve got big shoes to fill in replacing Bobby Roberson, but he’s been great during the transition. I think I want to build on what they’ve got started. We’re trending upwards, and I think there’s the potential for a lot of growth while still keeping Washington’s uniqueness.”

While Russell has jumped feet-first into the role of city manager, retiring City Manager Bobby Roberson will remain on staff in an advisory capacity through December. This overlap will give Russell and Roberson nearly two months to work through the transition and prepare for the city’s upcoming budget process. A self-described fiscal conservative, Russell says he hopes to balance wise spending with the needs of Washington residents.

In terms of making changes in in City Hall, Russell says he is a believer in incrementalism — a theory of public policy that advocates making small adjustments as needed as opposed to broad, sweeping changes. Thus far, Russell says that he has been impressed by the work environment and sense of teamwork shared by municipal staff.

“I’m going to evaluate current processes and how we’re operating and if I can identify any efficiencies, we’ll try to make some necessary changes to improve based on those,” Russell said. “But again, I would say I definitely take an incremental approach. Sometimes when there is change in management, there is some hesitancy among staff, but working with everyone this week, I’ve got a good sense of team and I think my management style will mesh well with what they’ve had previously. We’ll work forward.”

Professionally, Russell has spent the past 11 years working in municipal government. After graduating with bachelors and graduate degrees from East Carolina University, he worked with the City of Greenville as an assistant to the city’s public works director and city engineer. From there, he took his first position as interim manager in LaCrosse, Virginia. After three years there, he accepted a manager position in Elm City, where he served as town administrator for the past eight years.

In the coming weeks, Russell and his family will be moving to Washington, as stipulated in his contract with the city. He and his wife Shannon have two children, Lilly and Grover.