De'Carlon Seewood is ready to get started as Columbia's city manager.
While he is the city's first Black city manager, he doesn't see himself as a history-maker, he said before officially taking on the role after John Glascock's retirement Friday.
"Hopefully it means that the city understands and values the need for diversity. They understand the value of having different thoughts and ideas in order for us to be successful," Seewood said about his hiring.
He came to Columbia as deputy city manager in 2019 after serving four years as the city manager of Ferguson. Seewood was not city manager when Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson but did face its lasting impacts as the incident and ensuing racial unrest garnered broad attention.
The active and engaged citizens in Ferguson prepared him for working with similarly active and engaged residents in Columbia, Seewood said.
He also had served as assistant city manager in Ferguson from 2000 to 2007.
The work of government and social engagement isn't just a one-and-done project, but rather is an ongoing process, Seewood said.
"Ferguson for the longest time was working on racial diversity," he said, noting the development of a resource center, diversity functions and local organizations.
"Around 2012-2013, they stopped because they felt like we have done all this work, we are done," Seewood said.
Brown was killed Aug. 9, 2014.
The work wasn't done, and a section of the citizenry was alienated and the connections were no longer there, Seewood said.
"We have to stay connected and reengage and make sure we are all working on the same page," he said. "I like to believe I am a great collaborator. That is how we will become successful. I believe and get excited in the work."
Seewood applied for Columbia city manager to be able to continue work on resident and employee engagement.
"I wanted to be in front of getting us there. That is what made me want to take on this role," he said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, the city has moved forward under Glascock's leadership, Seewood said.
"I am proud to have been part of his administration and I am proud to follow him," Seewood said.
A small-town project secures Seewood's career path
Seewood found a love of working with local government while conducting a community development block grant program for Fulton.
That project helped secure improvements to the community park as well as the demolition and rebuilding of dilapidated housing into something affordable.
One of the rehabilitated homes was sold for $12,000 to a single mother of four children.
"It was an amazing project and made me fall in love with local government," he said.
This project was after he graduated with his master's degree in public administration from the University of Missouri. He had received his bachelor's in political science in 1994 from Rockhurst University in Kansas City.
Seewod's interest in working for local governments grew while working an internship with the City of Osage Beach during his master's program.
"I had never heard of a city manager until my internship, but knew that was the position I wanted to be in," Seewood said.
Learning how things operate
The past two years as the deputy city manager have given Seewood an opportunity to observe how the city operates, he said.
"I was able to learn a lot about what we do and why we do it," he said. "Now I get to actually lead where we are going."
While there is a lot of work to be done, Seewood first will need the staff to accomplish it. Through the lens of the city's strategic plan, Seewood is tasked with finding ways to combat against what has become known as "The Great Resignation" in the U.S.
There are staffing shortages in every single city department.
"We are going to have to figure out a way to galvanize our efforts to bring new employees to the city," Seewood said. "What does that look like and how does that function and what should we be paying people.
"It's not that we are down a couple positions. We are down a lot of positions."
From USA Today - subscribers only: Economy, job growth set to slow but remain strong in 2022 as Great Resignation rolls on
Seewood is essentially having to rebuild some city functions from the ground up. The strategic plan lays part of that groundwork.
One aspect of the plan includes organizational excellence, and a facet of that is how the city can provide better benefits to its employees. A compensation and wage study is underway that looks at all elements of employee pay.
Another aspect is looking at city code 19-84, which deals with promotions, transfers and other reassignments. Concerns over this specific city code were brought up in June, which then led to accusations being lodged at Glascock by ousted city budget officer Kyle Rieman.
Code 19-84 puts limits on promotion pay increases. Ryan Jarrett, a senior system administrator for the city's IT infrastructure division, expressed concerns about it during the June 21 council meeting. In an email to the city council, Jarrett explained that his compensation was less than another system administrator, even though he had the senior position and responsibilities.
The study is underway, and those conducting the work are receiving employee input on all aspects of the city compensation, including Code 19-84, Seewood said.
"We want (the study) to be driven by our employees. We want our employees to feel that whatever is developed, they helped develop it," he said, noting you sometimes try to fix an issue and end up creating more, in reference to Code 19-84.
Seven years ago, the city had a Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence.
While murders in the city are down compared to past years, there is an increase in reported shootings.
It's time to look at the conclusions in that report and continue to follow through on its recommendations, Seewood said.
"And continue to report out what we are doing," he said.
Seewood wants to make sure residents feel like they have a voice in their local government and do not feel like they are disenfranchised.
"We do a great job of informing people what is going on, but we struggle with engaging with (people) to let them know they were part of that decision-making," he said.
'You diagnose a problem': How Columbia could update its 7-year-old community violence report
Seewood has a vision for something known as community connectors. These are residents who have knowledge of city plans and then can explain them to neighbors.
"Here is an opportunity for us to engage a group and have them be our eyes and ears inside neighborhoods," he said.
Seewood wants to make sure people with solutions are tied to groups, such as city boards and commissions, so those ideas are shared.
More affordable housing still a goal
Affordable and workforce housing remains a goal for the city and for Seewood.
"Those homes that are between $125,000 and $250,000. How do we get those built, and what do we do to incentivize that?" he said.
Addressing affordable housing also means aiding the city's unsheltered population.
"The unique thing about this community is there are so many different types of services, but how do we tie everything together so we can say here's where you can go?" Seewood said. "That is what we need to work on."
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: De'Carlon Seewood ready to start work as Columbia city manager