Friday, May 29, 2009

Roanoke City Manager could be on her way out

It was probably only a matter of time since the most recent election of the new City Council, but Roanoke City Council will be considering the future of City Manager, Darlene Burcham, possibly as early as Monday. According to the Roanoke Times, a majority of the City Council is prepared to set a date for Burcham's departure as they proceed through her annual performance review.

Burcham has been Roanoke's City Manager since 1999. She began her career in local government in the 1960s and has served in many capacities from Social Services, to assistant county administrator, acting county administrator, and prior to her tenure in Roanoke she was Director of Human Services and Assistant City Manager in Norfolk.

Early during her tenure as Roanoke's City Manager, she was praised for her hands on approach and attention to detail. Over the course of time, she has increasingly been criticized for her micro-managing style. She has become a lightning rod for descent and controversy and calls for her ouster have been very loud at times.

One of the points of contention came with the decision to build the new Social Security building in the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood of Roanoke. This was met with stiff resistance from neighborhood residence who saw this move as another land grab that hearkened back to the days of Urban Renewal in African American neighborhoods which saw blocks of houses being condemned in the name of Eminent Domain.

While there were other and more appropriate sites for the Social Security Building, Darlene Burcham and the rest of the City Management team continued to push for the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood site. Only after the Social Security Administration learned, contrary to reports from Darlene Burcham and City Council members supportive of the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood site, that there was significant resistance from local residence did Roanoke City Council pursue other downtown locations. The new Social Security Building now sits on the site of the old Jefferson Lodge, which had fallen into disrepair and was a haven for drugs and other illegal activities.

The reason why I am droning on and on about this one issues, is because I worked with residence in this neighborhood to fight City Hall to chose a more appropriate site. Sometimes local government, in efforts to revitalize parts of the community that are in distress or lagging behind the rest of the community, forget the past and the politics of what they are doing. This was one of those instances and under Burcham's leadership knew that this was the wrong place for this project.

This has been festering for a while, but this might be the right time for her departure. City Managers and County Administrators have very tough jobs. Just ask former Amherst County Administrator Rodney Taylor, who appears to have been shown the door for actually doing a good job and not bowing to the good ol' boys system of local government. In the case of Darlene Burcham, her abrasive and micro-management style may have finally been her downfall. City Managers and County Administrators have to be good at running the day-to-day stuff and also have the political skill and finesse to see the forest beyond the trees. Darlene doesn't seem to have any of the latter.

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