Come June 2, Wytheville will have a new town manager. The Wytheville Town Council voted Monday to offer current Assistant Town Manager Brian Freeman the top spot. However, the vote was not unanimous. Council member Holly Atkins voted against appointing Freeman for the job.
She said it was nothing personal about Freeman, but she thought the council should advertise the position to allow town employees and others the opportunity to apply for the job.
“It’s nothing about anyone at all,” she said. “I just feel it needs to be open and we need to advertise and be transparent to give everyone the right to apply.”
Atkins suggested hiring Freeman as the interim town manager until everyone interested in the job could apply. Her motion to advertise the position died on the floor after it did not receive a second.
The council voted 4-1 to hire Freeman. He will become town manager on June 2. Current Town Manager Steve Moore is retiring on June 1.
When Atkins voted against the motion to appoint Freeman, she looked at him and said, “I apologize, but no.”
When making the motion to hire Freeman, Vice Mayor Cathy Pattison said she was honored to nominate him.
Before the council vote, she and fellow council member Mark Bloomfield praised Freeman, who has worked for the town for 13 years, including his most recent stint as assistant town manager and director of planning.
Pattison said Freeman exhibits the seven habits outlined by educator and author Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” These habits include being proactive, envisioning the end of any process in which he is engaged, being able to prioritize, having a win-win mentality, creating an atmosphere of give-and-take by taking the time to understand issues and give candid and accurate feedback, Pattison said.
She added that Freeman has problem solving skills and is always seeking new and better alternatives.
“Brian can sharpen the saw,” she said. “I believe this to be his most valued habit. Brian has the natural ability to tap into the highest and best contribution of every employee and council members. His leadership will unlock the strength, passion, capability and spirit of each individual.”
“I’m absolutely without reservation in support of T. Brian Freeman’s appointment as the next manager of the Town of Wytheville,” Bloomfield said, adding that in the past two years, many of the town’s top leaders have announced their retirement or have retired, taking with them nearly a century of institutional knowledge.
The positions include the town manager, assistant town manager, director of public safety, director of public works, police chief, town attorney, director of computer operations, director of museums and longtime previous mayor and vice mayor.
“We are very fortunate to have someone within our current staff who has significant institutional knowledge of his own,” Bloomfield said. “He meets the educational and training criteria for a town manager. He has more than 15 years’ experience working in local government and 13 of which are with our town. He is skilled in project management as well as community and project development. He has either worked in or closely with all of the town’s departments. He has played a key role in every major development project that we have had in the last 10 years or more.”
In a town press release, Wytheville Mayor Beth Taylor said that current Town Manager Steve Moore and former Town Manager Wayne Sutherland mentored Freeman as part of succession plan developed for impending retirements. Sutherland retired last July. At that time, Moore was appointed to serve as town manager, and Freeman was eventually appointed to serve as assistant town manager.
“He was challenged with projects outside of his role at the time and encouraged to obtain graduate level certifications, continuing education and leadership courses,” Taylor said.
According to a town press release, Freeman’s background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Tech with a major in geography (geospatial and environmental analysis) and a minor in public and urban affairs. In 2012, he earned a graduate certificate from Virginia Tech in local government management. He is also a certified planning commissioner. Local projects that he has played a key role in include Downtown Wytheville Revitalization, the Wytheville Farmers Market, Wytheville’s Comprehensive Wayfinding System and the East Main Street Entrance Corridor Improvements Project.
A native of Smyth County, Freeman is the father of Natalie, 8, and Owen, 3.
“Wytheville Town Council is looking forward to working with Mr. Freeman and his management team. Although the town will have many challenges due to budget constraints as a result of COVID-19, there are many exciting projects on the horizon and we appreciate Mr. Freeman’s help in shaping Wytheville’s future,” the mayor said in the release.
Earlier in the meeting, Pattison used the invocation period to remember longtime council member and Vice Mayor Jackie King, who died a year ago April 30.