Andrea Arnold is appointed as City Manager, adjusts, reprioritizes

“I’ve learned so much from our predecessor, Peggy Merriss, who was the city manager for 25 years and at the city for 35 years, which is really unusual for a city manager. [In] most communities, the life span on your job is five to seven years, and then the politics on your job change,” Arnold said. “I was lucky to learn a tremendous amount from her over the years.”
Andrea Arnold, who has worked within the City of Decatur for 21 years, was appointed City Manager in mid-December 2018 and started in the position in the new year.

Arnold began working in Decatur city government in 1997. A few years into working in Decatur, Arnold became the Administrative Services Director. Then, in 2004, she was appointed Assistant City Manager. 14 years later, she was selected out of more than 100 candidates to be City Manager.

Arnold came into city government differently than most due to her family history in the field. Arnold’s father was a town manager in eastern North Carolina and then again in Chapel Hill when the family moved there.  

“It was really when he was the manager in Chapel Hill that I became interested in his work, thinking that it might be something I would be interested in,” Arnold said. “At the end of the day, I like the idea of a job where you can make your community a better place to live in.”

After being Assistant City Manager for 14 years, it took time for Arnold to get used to her new job.

“When I stepped in [as city manager], I was like, ‘Oh, it’ll be easy. I’ll just step across the hall and have a few more things to do,’” Arnold said, “but it’s dramatically different from serving in the Assistant City Manager’s role.”

As Assistant City Manager, Arnold oversaw the budget process and all the internal operations of the city. Among these tasks were managing personnel, technology, finances and the city’s municipal court.

The City Manager’s job revolves around implementing the policy and vision that the Commissioners decide upon. Because of this, Arnold noticed that the primary difference between her old and new job was an increase in interaction with the City Commissioners.

As City Manager, Arnold is tasked with running and overseeing all city departments, advising and implementing policy the City Commissioners decide upon and developing relationships and partnerships with organizations around the community.

Arnold’s first steps as City Manager were to immediately go back into departments and reintroduce herself and schedule meetings to gauge concerns and changes necessary. For the same purpose, she has met with organizations such as non-profits around the community.

Through these meetings, Arnold has identified three key issues she wants to prioritize. The first is affordability. Affordability not only includes housing but also stores, restaurants, and programs at public facilities.

Another key issue Arnold is focusing on is environmental sustainability, which has become increasingly important at the local level.

“We have an environmental sustainability board, and they help provide us with research and advice on things we should do,” Arnold said. “Hopefully we can take more of a regional role because that’s certainly not happening at the state or federal level.”

The last key issue addresses inclusion, diversity and equity within the community and is gaining more attention due to recent studies.

“We talk a lot about being an innovative organization, but I also believe to be that we first need to address inclusion, diversity, and equity. We need to look at our systems and make sure we don’t have bias in them, even our hiring system,” Arnold said. “Once we do that, we can really break through and truly become an innovative system.”

According to Arnold, Decatur’s unique size, location and demographics make it ideal for an innovative government. Decatur provides a small-town feel while being close to a booming metropolis, making it a hub for families. Families take an active role in the community, which pushes the government to create positive change.

“Hands down, compared to other cities across the country, we have a very active and engaged community,” Arnold said. “The people that live here genuinely care about the community, and they are really involved. I mean, we’ll have a meeting about anything, and people want to come out.”

During her time as City Manager, Arnold hopes to be more collaborative and make great strides in the community. She believes Decatur’s “outstanding personnel that want to make a difference in their community” can make that goal possible.