The Roanoker - January/February 2018 - 14
In A Position of Strength
City Manager Bob Cowell has big ideas for Roanoke's future
and hopes for a positive impact on citizens' lives.
S NEW ROANOKE CITY MANAGER
Bob Cowell and I sit in a booth
at Leonore Restaurant-him
with a pulled pork sandwich, me with a
Philly-we discuss his first few months
"It's been like drinking from a
firehose, which it should be at this
point," he says with a laugh. "I'm trying
to find out as much as I can about the
Council, organization and community,
which means getting out and meeting as
many people as possible."
During the interview process, he'd
only researched a few bits about Roanoke
online; the job was obviously his reason
for moving here, but Cowell was beyond
pleased upon arrival at the natural
setting and convenience to other parts
of the country (especially with AmTrak
now available). Luckily, the move from
Amarillo, Texas wasn't too much of a
culture shock (it even snows there, too,
perhaps even more than Roanoke gets
some years). His wife, Ellen, is originally
from Charlotte, and the two of them met
while at the University of Tennessee.
"Amarillo always felt like the biggest
small town I ever lived in, and now
Roanoke feels the same way. I'm a
little surprised at how many people in
Roanoke are not from here, but moved
here, which is a big difference from other
Southern cities where people have been
there for generations."
As city manager, his goals include
"I'm trying to find
out as much as I can
about the Council,
means getting out
and meeting as many
people as possible."
budgets, community and partnerships
throughout the region. When he
interviewed, he told city council that
while working in government can be
difficult, he does it because he believes
he can make a difference. For him, the
purpose behind the job excites him for
opportunities and positive change in
people's lives. What excites Cowell most
about Roanoke, however, is the vitality
and excitement surrounding Roanoke.
"I didn't know about downtown, only
that it'd gone through a redevelopment...
all this activity was very surprising in a
positive sense. It was well past where a lot
of communities are in their community
development efforts; it didn't feel like it
was beginning something, it felt like it
was midway through something."
These positive things highlight
areas where it doesn't exist, such as
neighborhoods that struggle. Cowell
hopes for more change by working
with other partners in the community
so that everyone can enjoy the positive,
including feeling safe walking to their
parks and enjoying events within the
community rather than having to go to
other areas of town.
"We've got a good organization and
success in the city, but we have issues
that are entrenched and as a city have not
addressed as well as we should. Poverty,
violence and economic opportunities
for all of the city are part of that. If we
ever have a chance to address those, now
might be the time and addressing it as
a position of strength, not weakness."
He and Ellen, a consultant, love to
hike, so the mountains were a terrific
draw, as was the cost of living and
the arts and culture. They have three
basset hounds and now live in the
Grandin neighborhood. He says the
area sold him as soon as they stepped
into the neighborhood, with people
from different backgrounds and socioeconomic status. They already know
the majority of their neighbors, and the
open, welcoming community sold him on
wanting to be part of Roanoke's future.
"There are not many places outside
of large cities where you'll find
neighborhoods with an identity like that.
And what's neat is you get that feeling of
community elsewhere, too, such as Old
Southwest, Wasena and South Roanoke.
It's pretty special and really strong."
As a newcomer, Cowell has a lot to
look forward to in his new home.
"I'm looking forward to watching
the city over the course of the calendar;
it'll be fun to watch. We have such
momentum which allows us to approach
things from a position differently than
we might've eight or ten years ago. We're
moving in such a positive direction.
The good thing is I think all our goals
are doable along with the council,
organizations and community." I