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City Manager Looks Back on First Year And at the Challenges Ahead

When Dale Iman interviewed for the Fayetteville City Manager’s job, the sole of one of his shoes had a slight hole. For one council member it was a strike against him; for another it was the mark of a hard-working man.

In the end, Dale Iman won the council’s vote to become Fayetteville’s city manager. The controversy about a hole in his shoe was just one example of the diversity of thought among council members and an issue Iman would have to handle during his first year here.

He inherited the challenges of hiring a new police chief, of juggling resources to pay for a large annexation while still submitting a balanced budget without a tax increase, and of working with a council polarized over infill ordinances, art museums and leadership style.

In reflecting on his first year as city manager, Iman said there were surprises, – pleasant surprises and surprises that were challenges.

One challenge is an absence of codes that adequately address the city’s appearance problems. He is amazed that Fayetteville uses portable signs permanently and that citizens are allowed to keep junked cars in their yards. “That’s not acceptable by today’s standards,” he said.

Iman says it’s the job of a manager to find things that need fixing. To him, city ordinances that don’t do the job need to be fixed.

To achieve his goals, Iman needed to set certain things in motion. He needed to meld the council into a cohesive working unit, devoid of petty differences and focused on the larger issues. “I continue to share with council the importance of their role, which is much broader, much larger, much more visionary, and involves setting policy that will make this community a better community.”

His first six months gave Iman and council members a chance to get to know each other and to understand each other’s needs and priorities.

“We understand their needs, and they understand we need to run city in an efficient manner that requires certain processes and procedures that haven’t been adhered to in the past,” he said. That includes getting the council to understand that its role is not to focus on day-to-day operations or calling his staff about minute details.

It is the way successful cities work under a council-manager form of government, and Iman believes in that process. It is the most efficient and has proven itself among the best places to live, he said.

Mayor Tony Chavonne agrees. He likes the way Iman ties the issues council must address to the city’s strategic plan. “It keeps us disciplined and focused on the big picture. We should be policy makers and not get caught up in detail. That’s being well-received by council,” he said.

Council member Curtis Worthy likes Iman’s rule for placing items on the agenda for council discussion. Iman requires council members put their concerns in writing as well as their expectations of placing the item on the agenda. “It makes a council member think about an issue before bringing it before the entire council,” he said.

Iman also wanted the city workforce to become more efficient. To achieve that, Iman sees a need to change the way things have been done in the past and to inspire a new way of thinking. He expects teamwork among city employees, which is not always the case. He cites an example: While driving on Grove Street recently, he saw a piece of plywood in the road. To test the system he did not report the debris to the city’s centralized call center. Several days later he drove the same route and found the plywood still there. He wonders how many city vehicles drove past the wood without calling 433-1-FAY.

Iman has a long list of expectations for city employees. He expects people to find solutions to problems and make recommendations when they find something is not working properly.

But he has met resistance, which, some say, may be a result of his management style. Even council members who give him kudos for getting things accomplished say his brash communication style may have worked well in his previous environs of Michigan and Illinois but may not work as well in a Southern culture.

In July, the council talked to Iman about his management style during a closed session. In the past, council members have had immediate access to city managers. However, some in the meeting believed Iman’s assistant was screening calls and not responding to their concerns. Some felt he was taking his rule-making for council members too far with what they believed was his “if-you-don’t-like-my-style-then-fire-me” attitude.

Still, most council members give Iman good marks overall. Worthy says Iman does a good job researching options. “He doesn’t fall prey to knee-jerk reactions.” Lois Kirby said Iman is a “no-nonsense guy who doesn’t shoot from the hip.” Paul Williams says Iman “doesn’t make decisions based on saving his job; he makes decisions based on doing what’s right.”

It’s certain that Iman will face continuing challenges during his second year as city manager. See sidebar for some of his thoughts on issues that will affect the city.

This interview was conducted in August of this year.

Before taking the job, Iman knew about the annexation of some 40,000 people. However, he did not clearly understand the magnitude of the time and financial commitments involved. “Our capital program is sanitary sewer installation in the annexed areas for a number of years,” he said. The annexation also means building fire halls and recreation centers and increased police patrols. Yet needs in older neighborhood must also be met.

Consolidation of governments: The discussion to merge city and county governments will result in good things for the community. He believes it will open lines of communication and tear down barricades that have existed between the city and county. Additionally, it will help people understand the differing roles of city and county government.

Iman’s goals: He wants to build good relationships throughout the community, to develop a sense of teamwork among the council, city employees and the citizens. That is necessary because opportunities are coming to this community in the form of BRAC. “This is no longer a second-class city or second-class county,” he said.