Incoming Newton city manager Kelly McElroy couldn’t have picked a worse time to start her new position, taking over in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak that’s shut much of the city down, but having the advantage of a five-month head start in the job helps.
McElroy was promoted from assistant city manager at a Newton City Commission meeting last week. She has served in the city manager capacity on an interim basis since the start of January following the retirement of Bob Myers.
"It’s definitely an exciting time to be in the world," McElroy said of the timing of her hiring.
McElroy has been an assistant city manager and director of development since October 2016.
"I had previously worked in city management in the Oklahoma City area," McElroy said. "I worked for the city of Edmond. When I moved to the Wichita metro in early 2010, it was the beginning of the recession and it was difficult to find a job in local government. I went to the nonprofit sector and worked for a number of years for the Workforce Alliance (of South Central Kansas) out of Wichita, and they do multi-county regional economic and workforce development.
"When the the opportunity arose to go back to local government, I worked for a bit for the city of Goddard and helped them with a large development project — a STAR Bond project. When the opportunity came (to) work at a larger community, at a bit of a higher level so to speak, then it sounded like a great opportunity. Newton has always been known as a very positive community. They like growth and development. I have always been told that if there is the opportunity to work in Newton, I should take it."
McElroy compared her new job to being the city’s CEO, being responsible for the daily operations of the city. She reports to the city commission.
"The department heads all have specific jurisdictions, like the police chief of the head of fire/EMS and all of the other divisions of the city," she said. "My job as the city manager is to make sure that we are delivering the services to the citizens of the city that they need and want at the highest level possible at the most affordable manner possible. My job as the manager is to oversee all of the operations and making sure things are happening in a timely and efficient manager."
McElroy was given a contract that runs through the end of 2021 with a base salary of $135,000.
McElroy said she took the position with a positive mindset.
"We as midwesterners are very modest about ourselves," she said. "I come from the workforce development world and I tell people, ‘You have to sell yourself. You have to be proud of what you have accomplished.’ I am very positive. I like a challenge. I like to work with people — whether citizens or our elected officials. I really enjoy networking and looking for opportunities to partner. … I have a fairly extensive background in public administration, both educational and actual professional experience."
McElory was given glowing reviews by the city commission during the time she was approved for her new job.
"Commissioners, city staff, and community members who have worked with Kelly during her time in Newton know her to be knowledgeable, committed and trustworthy," Newton Mayor Leroy Koehn said. "During this time of unprecedented challenges, Newton is fortunate to have Kelly leading our City organization."
"I feel very proud of that and appreciate their support," McElroy said. "We have worked very hard together, especially in the last six months. That relationship was forged in fire, so to speak, because of everything that happened while I was still working on an interim basis. It’s a good relationship and we will do our best to maintain that going forward."
McElroy said recovery is the first order of business for her.
"Right now, the biggest challenge for Newton and all entities anywhere right now is the unknown impact of COVID, whether that is financial or infrastructure," McElroy said. "It will obviously have an impact on the city’s resources. It will have a huge impact on our citizens. We have been pretty fortunate in Harvey County that our layoffs and furloughs have been short-lived and limited, compared to our neighbors in Sedgwick County or to the northeast in Johnson County. I think we have been in a more favorable position, both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective. The biggest challenge going forward is how do we continue to deliver trustworthy service to our citizens while maintaining a balanced budget."
She said other challenges on the horizon include acting on a community survey sent out several weeks ago, which will help set priorities. Some of the issues the commission will face in coming months include refurbishing or rebuilding the library, an aging city swimming pool, infrastructure maintenance and water issues.
"The commission is going to have to make some decisions and prioritize projects from the prospective of those most in need or those most time sensitive," McElroy said. "Then we’re going to move forward as quickly as possible."
McElroy said her long-term goal is to encourage growth.
"Whether that is attracting more residents, building more homes, continuing to work with our partners at the economic development authority to bring in more jobs," McElroy said. "We need to attract more businesses so we can continue to grow in a strategic manner. I want to make sure we’re doing the right things as a community to make sure we’re bringing in things the citizens want.
"Newton is an amazing community. It has always been on my radar screen. Harvey was one of my counties when I worked in a regional perspective, and I always enjoyed it. … I am really looking forward to building on those relationships to move the community forward."