Ludlow shares highlights from her first year as City Manager
“My nicest memories come from the supportive words I heard from community members as I took on the new role as City Manager,” says Suzanne Ludlow of her first year on the job. “It made the transition to the position easier for me.”
In this interview, Ludlow shares highlights from her first year in her new position: what’s been accomplished, what lies ahead for the City, and what she is most looking forward to as she begins her second year on the job.
TP News: What has surprised you the most in the past year?
Ludlow: I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the Council to jump in and help on City efforts. This is the most active Council I’ve worked with, both on their own constituent service matters and on setting priorities as a group and working on them. In addition, they have pitched in on cleanup efforts during the big snow storm, they’ve come to staff events, and they want to be asked to help on lobbying efforts and in making connections to other jurisdictions and agencies. It’s really great—it’s a team effort.
TP News: What were your biggest challenges as you began your new role last year?
Ludlow: My biggest challenge was to hire an excellent Deputy City Manager to help share the work load. It helped that many talented people wanted to work for the City of Takoma Park, so we had great applicants from which to choose. Jason Damweber has been on the job eight months. He jumped in with both feet and has made my job so much easier. He has already made significant improvements to many of our technology and communications systems, and he is building strong relationships with Councilmembers, staff and residents.
My second biggest challenge was dealing with the brief stay of the person we hired as a Finance Director when Yovonda Brooks retired. Fortunately, our Budget Specialist Susan Cheung has stepped into the director role and will perform well in that key position. This experience reinforces the need for succession planning in all City departments. We need to ensure that the excellent and critical work we do will continue when planned or unplanned vacancies occur.
TP News: What was your greatest opportunity, and how have you been able to capitalize upon it?
Ludlow: My greatest opportunity was the big snow storm in late January. With the City’s new website and ability to do blog posts, I was able to give frequent updates before and during the storm. Residents want to know what’s happening during an emergency event, and we were able to get that information out.
More than that, I was able to tell the stories of our public works staff and police officers as they rose to the challenges they faced. It’s nice to be able to show that City staff is made up of real people who really care about Takoma Park. In getting the word out in this way, Councilmembers and residents found it easier to share information with each other and then back to me, so problem areas could be promptly addressed.
Now we have shown to ourselves that this higher, and more personal, level of communication is well-received and helps show what is special about Takoma Park. News blogs from individual Councilmembers and the Mayor on behalf of the whole Council, and from key staff and the City Manager on behalf of the City staff, will go out regularly to keep people informed about activities in the City. And they will continue to be used most effectively in times of emergency. I’m so glad it worked well. It’s a nice new part of the Takoma Park experience.
TP News: Of what accomplishments are you most proud?
Ludlow: It seems too early to talk about accomplishments. A lot of improvements have been made over the past year, but it feels more like most things are a work-in-progress. The new website is so much better than the old one, and I love the Project Initiatives page on the website and the My TkPk app. I was really pleased with staff’s work in organizing the first Community Conversation on affordable housing, and there are many internal system improvements that have been made that the public can’t see but that help staff do their work well. If there is one improvement of which I’m proud, it is that staff members see the importance of communication as a key part of our work. There’s more to be done here as well, but we have advanced so much in this area that I feel really good about it.
TP News: What kinds of “challenges” do you anticipate during the remainder of this year?
Ludlow: We have huge projects and initiatives in the works: Takoma Junction, the look of the renovated library, improvements to the intersection of Ethan Allen and New Hampshire Avenues, economic development initiatives along New Hampshire Avenue, how to serve young people in the community that most need a leg up, and many more. It will take a lot to balance the work load and accomplish the goals the Council has set out in its excellent priorities document.
TP News: What are you most looking forward to as you begin your second year as City Manager?
Ludlow: A vacation! In May after the budget is passed, my husband and I will take a few days to help our son move to Florida for a summer job, and I hope to take some time off with my husband in August.