Are we headed for a 2-9 season?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 9, 2003

It was a whirlwind 24 hours of speeches, oaths and partying this week as Suffolk bid farewell to one city manager and welcomed his replacement.

On Thursday evening an invitation-only reception was held in Suffolk’s newly acquired Obici House. The guest of honor, now former City Manager Myles Standish, was showered with praise and gifts by City Hall employees at Amedeo Obici’s former hangout on the Nansemond River.

As one who is typically dazzled by the opulence of Waffle House, I was downright awestruck by the splendor of Obici House. I was equally impressed at the apparent high regard with which Standish was held by those worked with him. It was an exhibition to which I am unaccustomed.


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Over the past two decades, I’ve covered city managers in towns in Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama. I’ve seen many of them come and go and I’ve never seen such a fuss. It’s been my experience that when city managers depart, they are usually not invited to the parties that follow their departure, oftentimes having slinked out of town under cover of darkness.

Face it. It’s a thankless job. The city manager winds up taking the blame for everything bad while politicians step in to take the praise for that which is good. But that is why they are compensated so well and they earn it.

Less than 24 hours after Standish’s swank send-off, the spotlight had switched to Steve Herbert, Standish’s successor, and the love fest continued.

Mayor Dana Dickens gushed about &uot;new beginnings&uot; and must have mentioned about 15 of them. Herbert, after being administered his oath before a packed City Council Chamber, was appropriately humble in his remarks, assuring his seven employers who looked on that, &uot;if it interests you, it will fascinate me.&uot;

After the mercifully brief formal ceremony, the party adjourned to the upper floor of the Washington Street Center, formerly Byrum’s Hardware, the home of the Department of Economic Development.

Its selection as the host of the reception was certainly appropriate because of the hand Herbert has had in the city’s development efforts. The wonderful work architect Randy Hicks and HBA did on the building stands as testimony to the fact that Suffolk has joined the ranks of major players in this domain. Far more appropriate for this important work than a couple of rooms atop an old bank building.

I hope Mr. Herbert enjoys his honeymoon period because serious work lies ahead. His is an unenviable position. It’s easy to follow a loser; it’s much tougher to follow in the footsteps of someone who has enjoyed success. Expectations are high and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to him that patience is limited.

While I certainly think Herbert is up to the task, I can’t help but be a little concerned about the future. I expressed this concern to Standish last year and my reasoning for it after he acknowledged that he would retire.

City managers, I’ve found, are like college football coaches. When a college football coach leaves a school of his own accord, it’s for one of two reasons: (1) He’s accepted a higher-paying job at a more prestigious school; or (2) He knows he’s got nothing coming back the next year and he &uot;retires&uot; while his reputation is intact so that he can get another good-paying gig down the road. Invariably when a coach &uot;retires,&uot; his team is headed for a 2-9 season.

Standish did not leave Suffolk for a higher-paying job in a more prestigious community and that makes me a little nervous.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.