Community News Politics — 20 October 2011
‘Rigorous, not ruthless’: Alexandria’s newest leader

Mayor Bill Euille and the city council appointed Rashad Young city manager of Alexandria Saturday. It’s a move that puts the former Greensboro, N.C., government chief at the helm of a city planning to spend more than $1.7 billion on daily operations and capital improvements this fiscal year.

So who is he?

At 35, Young will be the youngest person ever to supervise City Hall and guide a budget process — with input from elected officials, residents, city employees and local business owners — that dictates where and how tax dollars are spent in Alexandria. He is also the city’s first black manager, a fact Euille called “historic.”

When he arrived in Greensboro after managing his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, Young found an organization bruised by tumult over discrimination in the police department. He helped right that ship, though he admits it is still wobbly, and refocus it on the right priorities.

Though he’s unsure the neighborhood he’ll settle in, Young will move to Alexandria with his wife, Tameka, and their two sons, ages 3 and 4. He’ll be sworn in Monday, but already has had plenty to say about his new gig.

YOUNG ON TOP PRIORITIES

“I want to come in and figure out and hear directly from stakeholders what the issues are. By the time I get there, we’ll be in the midst of developing the budget, certainly where the waterfront development is going to go in terms of its form and scope of development, how the BRAC transition gets addressed in terms of transportation and safety issues … I know these are all front-burner issues.

“Certainly at the macro level, I think the overarching issue in Alexandria is how growth is going to be balanced and how you … have opportunities for additional development, but also why you try to preserve what makes Alexandria unique — its history and its culture. That’s a very broad sort of challenge and opportunity. But to understand the nuances, I think, is important before I can even begin to articulate how those issues get addressed and framed from where they are now.”

YOUNG ON ALEXANDRIA’S APPEAL

“What’s occurring in Alexandria — there may be some challenges associated with it — are opportunities that I think will shape this community for years to come. With the opportunities around the waterfront development, how to manage and deal with the transportation issues facing Alexandria … it’s a unique, professional challenge for me. The environment, the cosmopolitan nature of it, is really exciting.”

YOUNG ON LEADERSHIP STYLE

“I think [city council members] were impressed with my energy and enthusiasm, with my ability to handle tough decisions and make tough decisions [in Greensboro] and stand on what I think is right, while respecting the governance structure that we have. I think they like that I’m aggressive, that I’m outcome-oriented, that I like to have a plan and a strategy and that I like to execute.

“I think [city council members] were able to see and recognize that I can get things done, but I can do it in a way that isn’t offensive, that doesn’t leave bodies on the table. I told them that I like to consider myself to be rigorous and not ruthless, and that’s a line that I borrowed from the Jim Collins book, “Good to Great.” I hold people accountable. But I’m fair and I’m approachable and I listen and I like to work within the organization and within the community to make things better and get things done.”

YOUNG ON LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE

“I have found it is usually not the best approach for a city manager to come in and make decisions absent of the discussions with stakeholders.

“One of the parallels that I like to think of in terms of what city managers do versus the private sector — because we’re sometimes compared to the CEOs of companies — is in the city manager world, while you may be the chief administrative officer in the organization, you still don’t have the ability to make a decision independent of input and discussion with others.

“Whether I may agree with [stakeholders’] approaches or not, I generally can understand where they are coming from … and I think that’s helpful in conversation and in policy deliberation. So I think that would be my approach in Alexandria: recognizing there are a lot of stakeholders that have input, that are well-versed on an issue, that think very strongly about where an issue should go … and that’s just part of the job of being the city manager, and hopefully a successful city manager in a community that’s highly engaged.”

YOUNG ON RELEVANT EXPERIENCE

“Certainly from a fiscal challenge standpoint Alexandria is having some challenges; not to the degree in North Carolina and certainly not to the degree of cities like Dayton and states in the Midwest, but there are some financial challenges where the desire and the need for expenditures outpaces the revenue growth. And so my experience both in Greensboro and in Dayton in how to manage with some fiscal austerity, how to set priorities and strategically make investments, but also sort of managing to the economic realities that we are in, [is relevant].

“I think Alexandria’s historic reputation and the degree to which the community holds to its culture is extremely strong. Greensboro is very proud of its history as well, and how that history plays into decisions that are made today, and how we respect and honor those things in the community that are deemed special. It’s something I understand — something I understand is important.”

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Alexandria Times Staff

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