Editorial: Alexandria’s city government needs stability

Editorial: Alexandria’s city government needs stability

(File photo)

Many Alexandrians were surprised Monday when news broke that our capable city manager, Rashad Young, is leaving after only three years on the job.

Young, 38, can hardly be blamed for jumping at the chance to become city administrator in Washington. There he will oversee a city workforce and budget almost 10 times larger than those in Alexandria. The position likely also comes with a hefty pay raise for Young, whose Alexandria salary upon being hired in 2011 was $245,000. (WTOP reports that the departing D.C. Administrator, Allen Lew, earns $295,000.)

What does Young’s departure mean for Alexandria? In a nutshell, it means the city is losing its most important employee — the person, in a manager-council form of government, who runs things on a daily basis. Young kept a fairly low profile — it’s Alexandria’s City Council members who attend most ceremonies and events — but was widely seen as being good at his job.

Young’s departure next month also comes in the midst of budget planning for next year. While Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks is expected to become interim city manager, losing Young will disrupt the budget process.

As the search begins for Young’s replacement, city leaders should think about the type of person they want in the top administrator post. To use a basketball analogy, do they want another “one-and-done” leader — that is, a young hot-shot who likely will stay only a couple of years and move on to bigger and better things — or someone who is likely to stick around longer?

It took eight months from the time previous City Manager Jim Hartmann announced in February 2011 that he was leaving until Young was introduced that October. Young will have served 39 months in the post when he leaves in January. That doesn’t strike us as enough of a return on the time and money spent searching for a replacement.

Young’s track record prior to coming to Alexandria indicated he would only stay here two or three years: he spent three years as city manager in Dayton, Ohio and only two in the top job in Greensboro, N.C. It was unrealistic to think that Young, who was only 35 when he became Alexandria city manager, was here for the long haul.

Given the turnover in the city’s top administrative positions in the past year, the search committee needs to focus on finding a talented administrator who is committed to remaining in Alexandria for at least five years. Hartmann served six years as city manager. The gold standard for stability and longevity was the late Vola Lawson, who held the city’s top administrative post for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000.

We thank Young for all he accomplished as city manager and wish him well. And we hope our next chief administrator is in it for the long term.