Friday afternoon, the Knoxville community will be saying goodbye to City Manager Harold Stewart after four years in the position.
For me, Stewart's departure marks the third time I've written a nice sendoff column to an outgoing city manager. I was sad to see Jeff LaGarce go early on in my tenure at the Journal-Express. I was not as sad to see Dick Schrad retire – though his retirement has greatly improved our relationship. As for Harold, it is a shame to see him go, but I believe it is best for everyone.
What I've learned through working with city managers over the years is that it is quite a demanding position. It only seems to become more difficult the longer you're in the job, which creates tension and short tempers. My theory is that this frustration comes from giving the job, your staff, your council, your city everything you have, but yet those things that you HAVEN'T accomplished are right in front of you.
I openly admit that I have played a role in sometimes bringing those things unaccomplished to the forefront. That's my job.
Nevertheless, I always respected Harold and his predecessors for their willingness to take on such a demanding job. It's one that clearly not everyone is capable of doing.
Why it's a good thing Harold's leaving is that I don't think he's reached that frustration level of being unable to look past the city's shortcomings. He's still very focused on what Knoxville HAS accomplished and the good things in place, as well as those yet to come. The shortfalls are not consuming him to the point that he is unpleasant to be around or to work with – at least from what I have experienced.
I don't know if Harold is a “Seinfeld” fan or not, but I can't help but be reminded of George Costanza's recommendation of “Always leaving on a high note.” What higher note could Harold leave on? Streetscape – with the exception of a few minor problems – is complete. Weiler is expanding, we have a new housing development getting ready to open and those pesky wayfinding signs are finally erect to point visitors where to go. There's probably more, but you get the idea.
There were times Harold and I butted heads, but the professionalism he brought to the position, to my relationship with him as reporter and overall to City Hall is a good legacy to leave. I didn't like the fact that he seemed to take so much time off early on, I didn't like the amount of money he was spending, but frankly, he's gotten the job done.
Harold's professionalism and desire to make City Hall are more welcoming, public service organization is something that I hope interim City Manager Aaron Adams, and the permanent city manager who succeeds him, will continue to be able to foster. So, I say goodbye to my friend Harold, and wish him the best of luck.
Take care of yourself and thank you for reading.