2014-07-24 / Opinion

A Legacy to Build Upon

A fter two-and-a-half years on the job, City Manager Jane Howington bids farewell to Newport this week. Her administration, while brief, has been constructive and we certainly wish her well.

Over the course of her tenure, we found Howington to be responsive, forthright in her duties, and well respected by staff. Arriving in Newport from Montana by way of Ohio, she eased into a post that is inherently difficult to navigate.

From day one, Howington was gracious and seemed to revel in process and procedure – both good traits for the city’s most visible employee. With a dry wit and sharply analytical mind, Howington proved herself immediately capable and quickly earned the respect of her peers. Perhaps her most lasting legacy will be the reorganization of City Hall that had been initiated in the years prior to her arrival, culminating with the creation of a dedicated office of civic investment.

Her stewardship over the council’s ongoing strategic planning sessions also set a laudable standard for her successor to take note. And while at times her relationship with the council became strained, Howington represented the city with a constant professionalism and diligence that should be commended.

In all politics there exists natural tension – between parties, branches of government, and those elected and appointed. For the most part, this dynamic is healthy, built into our democracy as a natural hedge against whim, folly, and extremism. During the last 12 months of her time here, the tension between the council and Howington became uncomfortable and counterproductive. We hope the next council maintains better relations with her replacement.

Which brings us to now look ahead.

Charged with both carrying out policies set forth by the City Council and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city, a good manager must strive for a constant balance.

It’s not an easy job.

Whoever replaces Howington is likely to step into an entirely new dynamic. With November’s elections not far off and a search for a new manager yet to begin, it’s likely the city’s next chief executive won’t start until perhaps after the new year. And that should provide ample opportunity to find a new manager who will continue to build upon the progress the city has seen over the last 10 years.

Ideally, that individual will blend a love for Newport with a capable and proactive style that manages not just for the here and now, but for the future as well.

Economic development should be a strong suit; an appreciation for the environment another; and a desire to be inclusive of the city’s active community groups and benefactors paramount.

Newport is a very special place to live, drawing to it a highly diverse and sophisticated demographic. As such, it requires a special type of person to oversee its governance. And while we are blessed to live in such an enviable place, there is still room for improvement. Few would argue that our full potential has been met.

Part of the role of our next city manager will be to help us get there. Projects like rebuilding the North End, improving communications within and outside of City Hall, and developing a plan to lure new business to the city will all be central components of the job.

But there’s also something bigger at play.

Howington has done well in pushing Newport forward, and her successor will hopefully do the same. However, in the end, it’s really up to the community to determine what the city is and what it will become.

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