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Brake looks back at tenure in office

At 39 months, Paul Brake’s tenure as Morgantown city manager is the longest since Dan Boroff held the position for 17-plus years before retiring in late 2010.
Brake’s tenure ended on May 14 as he heads back home to Michigan and steps into the same role for Detroit suburb Royal Oak.
When a new manager is hired this summer, that person will be the fourth to hold the title in a decade — sixth if you count the interim stints of Glenn Kelly and acting interim manager Emily Muzzarelli.
Brake characterized his time in Morgantown as the most ambitious of his
30-plus years in and around public administration.
He also warned Morgantown can reasonably expect the revolving door of city managers to continue — for multiple reasons.
“In the short amount of time that I’ve been here, I’ve worked for 14 different council members. If the city is serious about wanting someone to come and stay, council needs to concentrate on looking at the terms of office,” Brake said. “Otherwise, I think you’re going to see people like me coming in and going out.”
Brake said the fact that all seven council seats go before the voters every two years is, at best, a constant distraction that also brings the possibility of having to reset the city’s goals semiannually.
“I’ve never heard of that anywhere in city government. I think that came about through a charter change in the 70s where they wanted to keep council on a short leash. Well, it’s counterproductive,” he said.
Early in his tenure, Brake asked council to consider moving to staggered, four-year terms. While council was generally in favor of the move, the vote failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to put it before the voters as a charter change — largely over disagreements about whether the city election should be moved in line with county, state and national elections.
According to Brake, the possibility of electoral turmoil isn’t the only drawback to being Morgantown’s chief executive.
Brake said he believes social media and 24-hour cable news have helped remove civility as a default and noted a particular fondness for “daily backseat driving” in Morgantown.
“To me, I take the long view in that I really try not to take things personally. But there’s no question it’s disruptive, and after a while it really kind of wears you down. It’s important to pay attention, but not to the point that it becomes disruptive, or worse, destructive,” he said.
“Honestly, there’s very few people who would sit down and look me in the eye and say these things to my face. So you’ve kind of got to discount that to some degree and say, ‘Sure, you can type those things out on Facebook or whatever, but that doesn’t mean I have to give it any credence.’ ”
He went on to say that it’s particularly disruptive when it comes from other local leaders.
“You have other elected officials who, quote unquote, make these decisions for us, and when we don’t follow, even though they didn’t go through official channels, they act like they need to shame us into it. It’s like, ‘Well, there goes the city. We came up with a grand solution, but they won’t do what we say,’ ” he explained. “That’s instead of just coming to us and having a rational conversation.”
Brake said the legacy he hopes to leave in Morgantown is found in the people he’s been able to hire and promote within the organization.
He also points to the $4 million riverfront overhaul currently underway and recent substantial headway on the city’s longstanding desire to extend the Morgantown Municipal Airport runway as among his proudest accomplishments.
Conversely, he said he’s disappointed in how the city’s ambitious, and contentious, annexation effort ended up — with the state legislature essentially nuking a city’s ability to force residents and businesses onto its books through annexation by minor boundary adjustment.
Brake has stopped short of saying the effort to bring 3.8 square miles, 12,380 new residents, 367 businesses and 43 miles of roads into the city was mishandled. He believes the outcome would have been similar regardless of how the city went about it.
He noted the outward migration of the state’s population and said that can be tied, in part, to the state’s distinct lack of any real urban centers.
“You don’t have a single city over 50,000 in population in West Virginia. I think that’s to it’s detriment, and what the legislature did was entirely short-sighted,” he said. “They scored one for a few vocal individuals with a lot of money who were looking out for their own self-interests, but it really hurt the greater good. It hurts the opportunity to grow the overall economy and to grow the state. That part is discouraging.”
Overall, he said the goal has always been to leave the city better than he found it.
“I’m very pleased with the projects and the headway we’ve been able to make over the last few years. I think, throughout my career, I’ve never been able to accomplish this much in this short a time,” he said.
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