NORWALK — Richard R. Powers' reputation as an accomplished administrator and skilled redevelopment leader won him the job of city manager, say City Council members who are counting on him to invigorate Norwalk's redevelopment efforts.
The council, which last week chose Powers to succeed retiring City Administrator J. Richard Streng, was impressed by Powers' record in nearby Paramount, where he has worked as director of community development and deputy executive director of the Redevelopment Agency since 1981.
"I know what it (Paramount) was years ago and what it is now," Norwalk Councilman Robert E. White said. "You can't help but think the guy turned it around pretty good."
"We definitely want his leadership in making (redevelopment projects) happen," Councilman Mike Mendez said.
A one-time hay-producing center that was labeled an economic disaster in a 1981 RAND Corp. report, Paramount has undergone a transformation in the past six years. It has a new downtown, new apartment complexes and new shopping centers.
Powers "has done a major renovation of our city," Paramount Mayor Charles Weldon. "Personally, I think he's a genius. . . . It's our loss that he's gone."
Councilmen in Paramount and Garden Grove, where Powers was city manager from 1972 to 1980, describe him as a hard worker who gets things done without alienating people.
"He's a marvelous manager," Garden Grove Councilman Milton Krieger said. "He really cares about what he's doing," Paramount Councilman Gerald Mulrooney said.
As an example of Powers' ability to get along with people, Mayor Weldon said the city Redevelopment Agency bought and demolished buildings in Paramount's old, decaying downtown without having to resort to a single condemnation action.
Even George Tanner, a Paramount resident who is spearheading a drive to reduce apartment density limits raised under Powers' leadership, called Powers "a very capable man. He's done an excellent job in the commercial development of our city."
A 48-year-old Anaheim resident, Powers is scheduled to move into the $85,000-a-year Norwalk city manager post on Monday. His salary is about the same as it has been in Paramount, but will be $7,000 a year more than Streng's. Thanks to a recently passed ordinance changing the postion from city administrator to city manager, Powers also will have greater freedom to deal with the city staff without council interference. As manager, Powers will have the authority to hire and fire department heads without council review. Under the city administrator's position, the council had veto power over such actions.
Norwalk Lacks Industry
As a bedroom community without an industrial base, Norwalk has to rely on its commercial sector for sales tax income. Although the city's Redevelopment Agency has brought several new commercial projects to town, Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez says Norwalk needs to make itself more attractive to developers. "I think we need to get somebody with more (redevelopment) expertise," Rodriguez said, explaining the council's choice of Powers.
Council members say they reviewed the resumes of about a dozen applicants, including two members of the city staff, before unanimously settling on Powers. "He has an outstanding record in Garden Grove and Paramount," Rodriguez said.
In Paramount, Mayor Weldon said Powers and City Manager William A. Holt were instrumental in rewriting and enforcing local ordinances to ease redevelopment and improve the city's appearance.
Norwalk, home to a county courthouse and sheriff's station and straddled by two freeways, has the makings of a regional center, Powers suggests. "Let Norwalk occupy its rightful place in the sun," he said. To put it there, Powers says he wants to boost commercial development, halt deterioration of the city's housing stock and work to make the city physically more attractive.
"The city has got to get in a very aggressive mode, along with the Chamber of Commerce, to help the business community when they need help," Powers said, adding that he wants to aid both existing businesses and woo new ones.