Council prepares for city manager candidate interviews, moves toward contract for homeless shelter’s design

The city won an environmental award from the state, one of several developments at Tuesday’s council meeting. (File photo by Zia Faqiri)

By Rachel Petterson, contributor

The city council is taking a key step later this week toward hiring a city manager with a public meeting scheduled for Thursday during which city council members will interview candidates for the job in a closed session. 

No action is expected at this meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. in the city council chambers, and there is not currently a timeline for when any announcements can be expected regarding who fills that position, said Michael Parks, the city’s director of communications. 

Ande Banks, who had been the assistant city manager, has held the position as the interim city manager since Eric Campbell stepped down at the end of 2021.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, Ande Banks, the interim city manager, told the council that “city staff is in the final days of negotiating a contract with the design and engineering firm to produce the design and engineering for the future homeless shelter on North Main Street.” 

The council in June approved using $700,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase the land and building on North Main Street from the Presbytery of Shenandoah. But city officials have planned to renovate the building to convert it into a year-round low-barrier shelter that the non-profit group Open Doors can operate to serve people experiencing homelessness. 

But that project isn’t expected to be finished until next year. 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting: 

  • The city council approved the request of the family and friends of Maylea Beasley to place a memorial sign at the site of her death. Beasley, a JMU student, was killed in a traffic accident on South Main Street in 2020. 
  • The city also won a state award for its program that repurposes wood from trees taken down in the city. That Urban Forestry and Urban Wood Program, which is run by the city’s Public Works Department and Parks and Recreation, won the 2022 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award gold medal. Tom Hartman, the public works director, told The Citizen that through the program, wood from trees — such as those cut down because of the emerald ash borer beetle infestations — has been repurposed into lumber and other products.
  • Meanwhile, Jeremy Harold, Harrisonburg Public Works green space manager and Michael Hott, Harrisonburg Public Works landscape manager, have also worked to replace trees. For instance, they are “planting over 300 trees this month in several projects around the city,” Harrell said. 
  • Fire Chief Matthew Tobia recognized two of the department’s leaders: Chief Stephen Morris and Battalion Fire Chief Benjamin Zimmerman.   

Morris earned “the prestigious designation of a chief fire officer,” which is given by the Commision of Professional Credentialing, a division of the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Tobia said Morris is “one of only 1,594 designees worldwide” who receive that designation after a rigorous review. 

Zimmerman, meanwhile, completed an officers training program through the United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy, Tobia said, adding that it is “widely regarded as an essential credential among city managers and elected officials when considering candidates for executive positions of leadership in fire and emergency services.” Zimmerman is among only 236 members of the Virginia fire service to complete the program, Tobia said. 

Tobia told The Citizen in an interview that firefighting requires more than physical training. 

“There is an immense level of executive development that needs to go on to lead these organizations,” he said. “It is simultaneously an incredibly physically demanding but cerebrally demanding job.”

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