Herndon town manager Steve Owen, the town’s municipal government administrator, announced his resignation on Friday to take a city manager position in Staunton, Va., ending a four-year tenure that has included the construction of a new police department, a multi-million dollar community center upgrade and the establishment of a controversial day labor work site. He will leave the position on Feb. 28.
The decision was made as a natural advance to his career as a municipal administrator, Owen said.
"I think it’s just one of those things that … most town managers try and do and that’s get into a position that’s along the natural progression of their career," Owen said. "Staunton is a very nice city and it gives me some opportunities to work in a lot of areas that I haven’t been able to in Herndon."
Those include the running of a municipal government that is separate from a county and the home to an independent school district, according to Owen.
Staunton sits in the Shenandoah Valley region of western Virginia, about 20 miles from the state’s border with West Virginia. A 2000 U.S. Census report lists it as home to nearly 24,000 people who have a median household income of about $33,000. According to the same report, Herndon has a little more than 21,000 people with a household income more than double that of the Staunton average.
THE NEWS came as a surprise to Mayor Steve DeBenedittis, who said he regrettably accepted Owen’s resignation on Friday.
"He’s an excellent manager and I’ve learned a lot from him, and me, just like other staff members, will really miss him," DeBenedittis said. "We’re all sorry to see him go, but we understand that he has to make these types of decisions with his career in mind."
DeBenedittis and the rest of the Herndon Town Council will now be charged with finding Owen’s replacement, a process that he said could take several months. During the time that Owen leaves his post and a new town manager is hired, a staff member, most likely a current department head, will fill the role of town manager, Owen said. That person will be designated by the Town Council at a future date.
"In order to find the right combination of experience and a person who we all want to work with, it takes a little more time," he said. "But we’ll be working with the staff closely and taking a look at a wide field of candidates that I’m sure are excited at the opportunity to work in a town like Herndon."
At the moment, there is no timetable set for hiring a new manager, DeBenedittis said. The City of Staunton had the vacancy for approximately six months by the time officials made the decision to hire Owen, according to a City of Staunton press release.
DeBenedittis said that he expects no slow down to town processes as a result of the switch. Staff members who are already working on the effort to develop downtown Herndon, find a new day labor site operator who will check work authorization status and the drafting of the annual town budget, due at the end of March, will assume those responsibilities in Owen’s absence, he said.
WHILE OWEN said that the recent national spotlight on Herndon following the establishment of a taxpayer-funded day labor site and the resulting change in town leadership was not a "major part" in his decision to switch positions, but the return to a more calm environment is welcome, he said.
"Just like many town managers, I’m always looking for a job that will be less stressful," he said.
One of the accomplishments for which he is most proud was working with the town to find a way to construct the town’s new Police Department in one phase by constructing it along with commercial rental office space to offset the debt service of the project, Owen said. Other major accomplishments include the comprehensive rewrite and update of the Herndon zoning ordinances and the completion of a major remodeling of the Herndon Community Center.
Town council member Connie Hutchinson was part of the original town administration headed by then-Mayor Rick Thoessen that hired Owen.
"When he came aboard we were just really impressed with his extensive background in Virginia government, and his experience … with the local network of local municipal legislators," Hutchinson said. "He has a very easy-going personality and is very laid back, but at the same time he’s very focused with what he is doing at all times."
The search for a replacement will be difficult, but very important for the future of Herndon, Hutchinson added.
"It’s an important decision obviously and we’re going to look to somebody with a good understanding of how town government works with those same qualities that Steve showed over the years," she said.