Harry Walker, the new acting city manager, plans to change the negative perceptions surrounding him by rolling up his sleeves and getting to work to change the city. Walker, aware of the public outcry against his appointment based on newspaper accounts, said there were three mistakes in those Pennsylvania reports. He denies any financial irregularities.
"I resigned; I was not fired from my post in Wilmington. I never took the job in Newbury, New York," said Walker.
He said he was a consultant in Newbury who finished his position there. He stated he was appointed to a position without his knowledge.
"I never accepted a paycheck," Walker said, "The news article was incorrect."
Walker said he heard about Coatesville's city manager position through Ed Scrivens. Scrivens is Wilmington connected and is also where City solicitor Andrew Lehr's redevelopment experience is located. Walker stated he was interviewed by all council members except Ed Simpson and Marty Eggleston. He said it was mentioned there were other candidates for the city manager position.
Walker said he was not going to give a vision for Coatesville just yet. He believed it was unfair for him only having been in the community three times at this point, but did promise to release it to the public and the press as soon as it occurs. He believes he was named because of his economic development experience and emergency fiscal management. He believes he is "tough enough to turn it around" in Coatesville.
Walker believes his first step with the city is to deal with the "communication" problem. He believes there was a lack of communication between council and past city management in fiscal issues.
"Citizens have a right to know," he said.
He promised details of the city's financial position. He believes Coatesville has two major problems that need to be immediately addressed. The first is the budget deficit and the other is a lack of revenue generation. Walker said he needs more time to study the details further to see exactly what has to be done to find the city's permanent solution. He believes he has the experience to read a budget correctly that can chart the course the city needs.
His second step is to unify and stabilize the city. Walker said the city's image can take a different direction.
"It can change under successful leadership, unite people for common interests. Create gravitas," he said. "It's the city's job to work with developers, not scuttle projects."
Asked what direction he would take the city, Walker said he would be listening to ideas and was open "to look at everything that could work in Coatesville and open it to any direction"
Walker's steps for revitalization begin by getting big developers into the city from other places and to create a plan. When asked if he was aware the city in the past had conducted a charrette, he stated he was unaware of it. A charrette promotes joint ownership of design solutions among municipal officials, developers, and local residents for urban planning. Coatesville's charrette was held October 21-27 in 2003 with the Knight Program in Community Building through the University of Miami's School of Architecture. He said he would review it and take from it what would work for Coatesville.
The next step is to create an environment with city council and government that makes the city receptive to developers and shows they are willing to work with them, but Walker emphasized, "I don't believe in doing anything for a buck."
He said it is up to city government to aid with zoning and other land development considerations. He cited natural resource consideration as one reason for not doing exactly what a developer wants.
According to Walker, the city will need to "package development deals" that make sense and meets all regulatory approval through a cost-benefit analysis. Once that happens, residents should expect to see changes in character in city real estate values. When that happens, neighborhoods should become safer. The next step is getting good-paying jobs for city residents. When that happens, people outside the city should be willing to come into the city and spend their money which will change the city's image.
One key to changing the city's image is through the local police department. Walker was aware of Chief Dominic Bellizzie's leaving June 1. He said he was made aware early Saturday morning. He stated he wanted to set up a committee to hire Bellizzie's replacement and said he currently needed to contact whoever was second in command within the department.
The next step for Walker will be to finance these changes. Walker said his first job after college was as a grant writer, but he intends to hire an experienced grant writer for the city. Walker stated he will be much too busy doing other city business like getting developers into the city to be grant writing. He leaves open the possibility for any development tools including tax increment financing or TIF as an option for the city. He said he was familiar with it to attract business to a community or in a mixed-use community. He had not heard of it for residential uses. He said he knew Wilmington used it, but it was after he had already left.
Walker has past experience when city councils have made major directional shifts like in Coatesville with this last election. Coatesville is a divided city that Walker said he has a desire to unite for its common good. He believes residents will start to see the beginning of changes for revitalization within the next two months.
"You'll know revitalization is happening when the contracts are signed, not just with promises," said Walker.
Coatesville citizens, both pro-Walker's appointment or against it, will be holding Walker accountable for his own deeds, not just his words.