Salem citizens and city staff had an opportunity to meet Monday night with and ask questions of the two men vying to become the city’s next manager. Interim City Manager Jay Taliaferro and Illinois resident Lowell D. Crow, who is manager of Freeport, Ill., and formerly Monmouth, Ill., met locals and talked for almost an hour before the year’s last scheduled Council meeting. Forty-fi ve people attended the event, including many department heads and staff , members of the Salem School Board, Planning Commission and Salem Fire & EMS. Th e youngest citizen was 9-year-old Rosie Horne, with her father, Sean Horne. Mayor Randy Foley said afterward Council hopes to make a decision on the city’s new leader before the end of the month. Taliaferro and Crow were chosen from an original pool of 43 candidates after a nationwide search, and Council chose to interview six in November and then narrowed it to three. Th ird candidate Jonathan Lanford, Alleghany County Administrator, withdrew from consideration. Crow explained he and his wife, a teacher who is certifi ed in English as a Second Language and who grew up in Manassas, wanted to return to Virginia.
The couple lived in the state before in York County and Norfolk while he was a 30-plus-year career Navy officer. He said their two sons graduated from Hickory High School in Chesapeake. He particularly likes the 25,000 population size of Salem, similar to Freeport; its emphasis on sports, the fact that Roanoke College is such a presence here, and the interest in keeping downtown Salem’s business community vital. Councilman John Saunders said he escorted Crow around town Saturday, including taking him to the Salem High School football game. “He was able to see how much interest the community has in the team,” Saunders said. Some of the questions citizens asked Crow were how he works across his departments and levels. He explained he believes in collaboration and encouraging staff to question where they see problems and bring new ideas. “I want a staff with new ideas,” he added. He said he got the lowest level employees involved in developing his city’s strategic plan, and providing incentives such as paid professional certifi cation. Crow’s intent is to meet every city employee within his fi rst 90 days, “and get them to tell me what their issues are. Resident Dave Robbins noted that Salem has spent a lot of money trying to keep the city vibrant, and asked what Crow had done in keeping his Freeport downtown vibrant. Crow noted public-private financing with banks, and the city covering the first 20 percent of loans. He also said Freeport tried to encourage businesses to stay late and open earlier, as well as on Sunday the weekend before the Shop Local event. Jay Taliaferro, who has been Interim City Manager for almost 11 months after 28 years as assistant city engineer and other positions, said “We’re in a real good place and can be even better.” He pointed out, “If we don’t evolve and keep up, we will not continue to survive.” Taliaferro said the city has to work with existing businesses to fi nd ways for them to add employees and equipment. Currently, Salem is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to try to regionalize traffi c problems. Th at includes getting four lanes of traffi c from Wildwood to Rt. 419, to move the additional cars and trucks that crowd onto Main Street when I-81 has accidents. Taliaferro acknowledged Salem has infrastructure problems, including water pressure on the north side that necessitates building a water tank in the future.
In answer to a question from the audience asking how he combats poor employee morale, he said communication and understanding are keys. He said what he would like to see is establishing departmental goals, setting goals for employees that can relate back to. Taliaferro added the city needs to have mandatory quarterly follow-ups to keep employees focused. He closed his remarks by quoting former City Manager Randy Smith who on his retirement 19 years ago, said, “Th ere’s no greater privilege than working for your hometown.” Taliaferro is Salem born and bred, a Salem High School graduate as are his two sons. He was appointed interim in January 2019 after Council asked for and received then-City Manager Kevin Boggess’ resignation. Citizens were invited to submit comment cards with questions and comments, which Sarah McKee, senior vice president of GovHRusa that handled the search and application process for the city, will take back with her to her offi ce in Illinois. After the two candidates talked and answered questions, a few people in the audience agreed to give the Salem TimesRegister their reactions. “I liked hearing them both,” said Rob Robinson. “They both have good ideas. I think it is a great idea for the city to have this meet-and-greet.” Fifteen-year-old Shannon Cox said, “Th ey both said valid things. I’d keep both of them. His mother, Carrie Cox, said, “Salem needs to have some new energy, some new direction.” At the beginning of the regular Council meeting, Mayor Foley read a statement directed to the roomful of Second Amendment supporters who fi lled the seats after the meet-and-greet ended. He thanked people for their emails on the subject, and explained that Salem does not have the authority to change the Virginia constitution. Council has asked City Attorney Steve Yost to look into the matter, and the city is awaiting an opinion from the state attorney general. “Th at’s all we are going to say on this tonight,” Foley stated