The new Robinson city manager likes a challenge.
After a month on the job, Craig Lemin has received an earful about city street conditions from residents while also working to prepare the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget.
Lemin, who has 32 years of experience in public service, said besides liking the area and being close to his children in Fort Worth, he was attracted to the position because he thinks his experience can help Robinson.
“I thought, ‘Can I go in there and take everything I’ve learned and help move this city in the right direction?’ ” he said. “It looks like a city that has a lot of things in place, it just needs a person to come in and bring it together. I like to feel like I’m making a difference.”
Lemin signed his contract with the city at a special meeting May 10, not long after the council opted to end its contract with former city manager Bob Cervenka. City leaders have faced growing tension with residents over the years as street improvement work has not lived up to expectations.
Lemin said he has already allowed a few residents to take him to see some of the street damage and has learned the city took on a pretty ambitious project. The one-size-fits-all project didn’t succeed, and now he’s working to gather information on how to best move forward, he said.
Lemin said he has met with city employees to review true costs of the work done so far and to develop options for how the city can move forward with a more efficient plan.
“I think the one thing people are going to have to recognize is we’re not going to be able to do as much as was promised,” he said
The amount of work needed will take longer and cost more than originally reported, he said.
Mayor Bert Echterling said he’s excited Lemin joined the city.
‘Developing a plan’
“It seems as if Mr. Craig is digging in and learning pretty quickly what some of our deficiencies are and he looks like he’s developing a plan to put us on the right path,” Echterling said. “I’m laying back a little bit and letting him get a feel for the job, and it’s really like an outside opinion coming in getting a fresh point of view.”
Echterling said Lemin already has discovered the importance of improving city streets and will bring the council a plan with options on how to address improvements.
Lemin retired from the city of Azle in January. He served as the city manger from February 2004 until January and managed 130 employees and an $18 million annual budget. He said there are a lot of similarities between where Robinson is now and where Azle was when he first got there.
Both cities faced heavy infrastructure needs and a damaged relationship between city officials and the rest of the community. However, in this case, Robinson is in good shape financially, whereas Azle was on the verge of being broke.
Lemin said it’s a little different “parachuting into the middle of it” versus working his way up the ladder like he did in Azle.
Knowing that, he said, as he moves forward preparing a proposed fiscal year 2017 budget he will include options because he knows the council has a better feel for the community’s needs.
Lemin was the city of Azle’s assistant city manager and director of administrative services from January 2001 to February 2004 and served as the Azle police chief for six years after working his way up through the ranks. He also was a Benbrook Police Department detective.
Lemin said he has been in positions of leadership much of his life as he immerses himself in his work. Lemin, who has a master’s in public administration from the University of North Texas, said schools teach a lot of theories about how to manage. The key is to be adaptable, he said. There are times when a city manager must play an authoritarian role, while others it’s best to serve as a mentor, he said.
Lemin said it’s important to be flexible, not micromanage staff and to be approachable. Lemin said he’s not into “summoning people to my office” and recognizes that smaller cities function better as a strong team or with a family-like feeling.
“We all have to work together, and no one department is more important than the other, even though sometimes some think they are,” he said. “None of them can do what they need to do without the support of the others. It’s all interconnected.”
Lemin said it’s his responsibility to help improve the relationship between the city and its residents. The best way to do that is to be honest and accessible, he said. Each employee has to be professional and efficient and if someone makes a mistake, own up to it and correct it, he said.
“Just be honest. Most people, if you’ll explain to them why you’re doing something, they’ll understand,” he said.
Lemin said one of the better aspects of Robinson that most residents may not be aware of is how water-secure the city is for years to come. Lemin said at a time when the state of Texas is facing severe water shortages, the city of Robinson is in a strong position in regards to accessing water and because of that, has room for growth.
“I know just from my short time here, there are some parts of the community that want to see Robinson grow and there are some people that don’t,” he said.
But the benefits of having the interstate nearby is that the city can grow along that route, while still maintaining a small-town feel in the middle of the city, he said.