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September 3, 2015

Brannon Godfrey hired as Warrenton town manager

Brannon Godfrey has worked six years for the City of Portsmouth, after stints in Winchester and Culpeper.
Warrenton is not gonna go wrong by hiring Brannon. He’s a wonderful human being, a gentleman.
— Culpeper Vice Mayor Billy Yowell, a town council member since 1988
J. Brannon Godfrey Jr.
• Age: 50

• Work: Warrenton town manager, starting Oct. 5.

• Salary:

• Experience: Interim city manager, Portsmouth, since April; deputy city manager, Portsmouth, 2009-15; city manager, Winchester, 2008-09; town manager, Culpeper, 2001-07; city manager, Emporia, 1995-2001; town manager, Brandon, Vt., 1992-95; assistant to city manager, Goldsboro, N.C., 1989-92; management intern, City of Rock Hill, S.C., 1987-88.

• Education: Master’s degree, public management, University of North Carolina, 1989; bachelor’s, government, University of Virginia, 1987.

• Family: Wife, Leslie; sons, Collier and Harrison.

• Hobbies: Outdoor sports, including kayaking, fishing and duck hunting.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Warrenton’s new town manager will come from one of Virginia’s most-challenged cities.

The town council voted unanimously Thursday night to hire J. Brannon Godfrey Jr., who has worked as Portsmouth’s deputy city manager since 2009. Mr. Godfrey, 50, has served as the coastal city’s interim manager since April, when the council there forced out his boss and fired its long-time attorney.

But, Warrenton’s new manager, who will start Oct. 5, has great familiarity with this part of the state. He served as Winchester’s city manager in 2008 and ’09, after six years as the town manager in Culpeper.

Warrenton’s council Thursday night authorized Mayor Powell Duggan to sign a contract that runs through June 30, 2017, with a starting salary of $150,000.

“Brannon is extremely capable,” Mr. Duggan said. “He’s experienced. He wants to become part of the fabric of Warrenton.

“I think he will be here for years to come.”

Mr. Godfrey will succeed Ken McLawhon, who left in December for a job in Tennessee, after more than 12 years in Warrenton.

In a phone interview Thursday night, Mr. Godfrey described himself as “good at building teams of people. I would describe it as a collaborative management style.”

With the exception of his work in Portsmouth, the North Carolina native has spent most of his career in small-town governments.

“It’s been on the whole an enjoyable experience,” Mr. Godfrey said of his tenure in the Hampton Roads city. “It’s provided a chance to broaden my experience, and working for the first time as a deputy manager has given me new perspective.”

He credited former Portsmouth City Manager Ken Chandler with giving him the opportunity in 2009.

But, Mr. Godfrey said he regards the Warrenton job as a chance “to return to my roots” in a smaller community.

“Warrenton is not gonna go wrong by hiring Brannon,” said Culpeper Vice Mayor Billy Yowell, who has served on the town council there since 1988. “He’s a wonderful human being, a gentleman.”

Mr. Godfrey did a good job of preparing budgets and communicating with the Culpeper Town Council, Mr. Yowell said.

“If a budget item had to go up or you had to raise taxes, which no council member wants to do, Brannon would break it down and explain things in layman’s terms,” Mr. Yowell added. “He’s top shelf.”

Mr. Godfrey regards his tenure in Culpeper, from 2001 to ’07, as one during which he worked well with the council and staff to manage unprecedented development, much of it previously approved.

The town’s population quickly jumped 50 percent, to 15,000, during that time. That challenged municipal services, including the town sewer system, which underwent a $27-million expansion during Mr. Godfrey’s tenure.

Reaching a service agreement with county government represented an important milestone, he said.

In Warrenton, he sees the challenges of making good decisions about “limited resources,” including undeveloped land and a sewage treatment system nearing capacity.

“It’s my job to give the council options,” he said.

With a real estate tax rate of $1.30 per $100 assessed value — one of the state’s highest, Portsmouth struggles to fund services. The city council this spring faced a projected shortfall of $11.7 million as it worked to develop a fiscal 2016 budget. The federal government owns a large portion of city real estate, including the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, making it exempt from taxes.

Portsmouth’s population has declined to 95,000 from a peak of 114,000 in 1960.

But, controversy seems constant. The day Warrenton hired Mr. Godfrey, a grand jury indicted a Portsmouth police officer for first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man outside a Walmart in April.

Earlier this summer, the city forced out its general services manager who allegedly purchased, without authorization, almost $900,000 worth of equipment to start a mulch-making operation.

The new manager will come to a community of 10,000 residents, with relatively minor challenges and a real estate tax rate of only 1.5 cents, one of Virginia’s lowest. (Warrenton property owners also pay Fauquier County real estate taxes, at a rate of 99.9 cents per $100 assessed value.)

But, Warrenton has deferred projects and hiring, which the council addressed with a new budget in July. It required dedicating about $1 million from reserve funds to pay for operations. Similarly, the town water and sewer systems have generated less revenue than their operations require, taking more reserve funds.

“Obviously, you can’t continue to operate on fund balances,” said Mr. Godfrey, acknowledging that he will need to propose solutions.

Warrenton Town Managers

• J. Brannon Godfrey Jr., starts Oct. 5, 2015

• Ken McLawhon, 2002-14

• John Anizvino, 1989-2001

• Don Smith, 1986-89

• Ed Brower, 1962-86

• P.W. Ancell, 1960-62

• Sidney Shumate, 1923-60

• J.W. Shirley, 1920-23

• L.M. Clarkson, 1920

Source: Town of Warrenton

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robbinnhoodd · September 3, 2015 at 9:08 pm
Here's hoping the big problems that Mr. McLawhon and Mr. Fitch left behind aren't too daunting for him to deal with quickly.
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