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Council has ‘Moor’ confidence in new city manager

Al Moor acknowledged that he didn’t have the experience typical of someone named to a city manager post — even on an interim basis.

It’s why some on council, including Mayor Mike Duman, had some trepidation about Moor taking the position full-time, and they spent the past seven months looking for someone new.

But in that time, Moor’s handling of the budget, taking over those interim duties in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and applying a personal touch to the position won council over — to the point where the eight members, including Duman, voted unanimously during its May 19 meeting to appoint him to the position. It comes with a $10,000 bump in pay to $200,000 per year.

“Put myself in their shoes,” Moor said. “I was an unknown, but I was a senior person, a little unknown in the position, but as a group and as a team, we’ve been able to accomplish at a critical time that each meeting the confidence grew in what we were doing and how staff was performing and the things that we were trying to bring forth.”

He said the confidence council has placed in him is humbling and appreciated.

“I was uncertain whether you’d be able to do the job permanently,” Duman said near the end of the meeting. Duman said it had nothing to do with Moor personally, but rather his lack of experience at the senior management level.

Moor had only been an interim deputy city manager for about three months before former City Manager Patrick Roberts resigned, and he was named interim city manager.

He did have 37 years of municipal government experience, and Moor said that’s not to be shortchanged.

“In reality, I’ve 11 years in Norfolk, 26 years here, especially here as a senior staff member, set me up well, I thought,” Moor said. “Having been serving under seven city managers in my career, I’ve seen the different aspects, so I felt prepared.”

Moor had served as director of public utilities in Suffolk since 1995 before being named interim deputy city manager last July after Scott Mills retired following 33 years of service to the city.

“It was different when I started out, but again, it goes back to who’s around you and who’s supporting you,” Moor said. “We had a lot of people (who) stepped up and dedicated staff, and that’s really what makes a difference.”

And it’s his personal touch that also helped win council over.

“If you’re approachable, people trust you,” Moor said. “So that’s one way to let people know that you’re approachable, because if you meet with people and you talk to them and be straightforward, they’ll trust you, and that helps you along the way.”

Councilman Lue Ward noted the questions surrounding Moor when he was appointed interim city manager.

“It was questioned in the beginning, but you fooled a lot of us, and you did a good job,” Ward said. “And like I say, I like to give people credit when it’s due. With no excuses, you took over the helm, and you’re the type of guy who said, ‘What you see is what you get,’ but you never try to take all the credit because you always say (it’s about) your employees. … and that’s why I back him.”

Moor had no shortage of issues to tackle — operating and capital budgets and helping with pandemic issues among them. It’s how he’s handled them that made an impression on Duman, particularly the extent of responsibility the now-city manager inherited. The mayor said he’s confident Moor will “do an exemplary job” putting into place council-enacted policies.

“You can normally judge the character of a person in the tough times, not the easy times,” Duman said. “How do they react? During those seven months, he demonstrated a high degree of professionalism and commitment. You proved to me, and I think everybody on council, that you have an unwavering dedication to the well-being of our employees and our citizens.

“It’s just sheer tenacity and determination that you were able to accomplish what you were able to accomplish in regards to the day-to-day operations of our city during that period of time.”

Moor, whose first budget council passed, will also have no shortage of issues coming at him and the city in the near and long-term future. He had another acknowledgment — stabilizing city government operations, with a number of people still holding interim titles, among them Kevin Hughes (acting deputy city manager), William Hutchins Jr. (interim city attorney), Azeez Felder (acting chief of staff), Gregory Byrd (acting director of economic development), Robert Goumas (interim director of planning and community development), Paul Retel (interim director of public utilities), Regina Chandler (interim director of information technology), Robert Lewis (interim director of public works), Harry Cromer (acting director of social services), and Al Chandler (interim police chief).

“Obviously, compensation’s a big thing, filling our staff positions that are interim and settling and getting stability back in staff is another near-term initiative,” Moor said. “And then we’ve got to work with the schools on the capital programs and as we continue, there’s just numerous things I could sit here all night and talk about what those are.”

After a meeting that was at times contentious among councilmembers, Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett joked that Moor got a taste of what’s to come and called it a good test.

“I guess you got your feet wet tonight,” Bennett said. “Sort of feel like (it’s) what it’s going to be like for the next few years or whatever. But it’ll get better as time goes on, I’m sure.”