One year in, Petersburg city manager says journey just beginning

Peterburg city manager says she's committed to five years

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - Aretha Ferrell-Benavides has been Petersburg's city manager for a little more than a year, and she's rebutting rumors that she wants to leave.

Ferrell-Benavides says the year has been full of challenges and successes, but said her work is just getting started.

"Our journey is not near the end. This is a marathon, not a sprint because to win this race," Ferrell-Benvides said. "We're going to have to pace ourselves and make changes that will last."

One major change made just this week is promoting police chief Ken Miller the director of public safety to oversee both the police and fire departments following the resignation of fire chief Dennis Rubin.

Ferrell-Benavides said she did not foresee having to fill that vacancy.

"Our rumor mill stated that he was looking for a job and he and I talked about it and had at one time talked about he was going to leave at the end of July," Ferrell-Benavides said. "We talked about the stability of the department and what was necessary and after that, he came and said he really would like to stay, so when he resigned I was a little surprised. However, as I knew the talks were underway in the beginning, it made sense that we had a Plan B."

Some other challenges have popped up during her brief tenure such as inaccurate billing for water service and slow processing of payments.

Ferrell-Benavides said staff members are still learning their roles after the city stripped duties from the treasurer's office. She said more employees are manning collection booths to make the process easier, but there may still be errors on bills as the city still works to convert manual water meter readings to electronic.

"Don't focus on what's past due," Ferrell-Benavides said. "If you know you paid, don't worry about that part. What we have to do is get our billing cycle caught up. We've got to earn back people's confidence that if you pay it, we're going to process it."

As for the rumors that she's leaving, Ferrell-Benavides said she isn't planning to step aside and has heard from several residents that they don't want her to.

"Some folks said, 'please don't leave us.' I told them 'I'm not leaving.' I'm committed to the city of Petersburg," Ferrell-Benavides said. "I have not applied for a job and I have no intentions of applying for another job. My goal was to be here for at least five years, and I'm committed to that five years. It's important that this city have stability and stability doesn't come from city managers coming and going, it comes from having consistent leadership."

She admits the city is still in a "budget crisis" but says layoffs and salary reductions are not options. Instead, she will have departments reduce their budgets and leave some vacancies unfilled.

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