Morgantown interim city manager steps in during challenging times

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest around the country, the City of Morgantown is searching for a new city manager. While a national search is underway, the job of running the city on a day-to-day basis has fallen on the shoulders of Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli.

“It definitely has been a challenge and not some of the challenges I expected moving into this role,” admitted Muzzarelli on WAJR’s Talk of the Town.

Muzzarelli, an engineer by trade, joined the city administration in July 2018 and has been involved in various projects around the city ranging but is now trying to help shepherd the city through uncertain times.

“I think a lot of people in city management are not used to dealing with some of the issues we’re grappling with right now.”

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Those issues include financial uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial inequities, and increased scrutiny on policing. That’s on top of traditional problems facing Morgantown such as pothole-riddle streets and homelessness.

In the same city council meeting where it was announced Muzzarelli would step into the interim-role for departing City Manager Paul Brake, council approved $3.12 million in reductions for the FY 2020-21 budget. Cost savings measures, such as spending and hiring freezes, were implemented as the city braced for the expected loss of tax revenue because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We made significant cuts to our budget for both the current fiscal year (FY 2019-20) and the fiscal year coming up here in a couple of days,” explained Muzzarelli. “We have gotten some help from the CARES Act, so that has helped a little bit, but we don’t know how long that funding is going to continue.”

Muzzarelli has also had to deal with one of Morgantown’s longstanding issues, homelessness. When a homeless encampment popped up in the city’s Greenmont neighborhood, rather than the city trying to deal with the problem on its own, a task force that included community members, nonprofits, along with city and county leaders formed to find actual housing for the individuals there.

“As of last Friday, there have been 14 people moved out of the encampment and into rental housing,” reported Muzzarelli. “There are still five people at the encampment who have expressed interested in getting into housing.”

With two young children at home, Muzzarelli has made it clear that she is not interested in taking on the job of city manager on a permanent basis but the time being, she is the city’s top administrator.

“I’ll try to keep them moving but not make any big, lasting decisions. Whereas, I can handle the day-to-day and its not going to be making these permanent swooping changes before somebody new is coming in,” said Muzzarelli.

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