An unfortunate departure at City Hall | Editorials

No one expected Gary Edwards to break records for longevity as St. Joseph’s city manager.

No one expected Gary Edwards to break records for longevity as St. Joseph’s city manager.

That designation falls to Edwards’ predecessor, Bruce Woody, who served nearly a decade before taking a job with a public utility in Florida. Edwards, on the other hand, barely served two months before he announced his resignation. He told councilmembers and city staff that he needs to attend to an unforeseen family health crisis.

Edwards came to St. Joseph with 25 years of prior city management experience. In hiring him, the council may have been thinking of leadership that was steady, competent and relatively brief — just not this brief.

People in St. Joseph should see this for what it is: an unfortunate departure but one that doesn’t reflect on Edwards or on us. Since he started at the job in November, Edwards managed to impress those whom he encountered for being decisive but also for being deliberative. There is no reason to believe that this should be considered a bad hire, based on what the council knew at the time.

There’s also a tendency among the public to view this kind of abrupt departure as a sign that something is seriously wrong in St. Joseph and in city government. Certainly, it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when any potential executive is given a pre-hiring tour of St. Joseph. There must be areas that are skipped over and sections of town where the drive-through is pretty quick and possibly conducted at dusk.

But it’s fair to assume that Edwards knew what he was getting into and knows how to navigate various personalities on a city council. It’s also true that St. Joseph residents tend to be their own worst critics in assuming that things are always worse here. The challenges that Edwards, and the next permanent city manager encounters, are similar to what you’ll find in other cities: Crime and drugs, poverty and schools, trash and vacant buildings, infrastructure and tax revenue.

It was unrealistic to think that Woody would solve all these problems in 10 years or that Edwards would make much progress in 10 weeks. The next man or woman to run City Hall won’t solve them, but we hope the manager will make progress by working with the elected council and with all of the citizens.

Running a city is a tough and often thankless job, but it’s also something that has the potential to leave a tremendous legacy. We’ll never know what Edwards would have accomplished or if he had thick enough skin to withstand the criticism that comes with it.

There is one bright spot with his brief tenure. He never stuck around long enough to fall out of favor with a faction of his City Council.