For the first time since 2006, Winston-Salem officially has a new city manager. William “Pat” Pate officially took the helm from longtime manager Lee Garrity at the beginning of November. He previously served as the city manager of Manassas, Virginia. 

The job is a kind of homecoming for Pate — he began his local government career as an intern for the city of Winston-Salem and later worked for the cities of High Point and Greensboro.

In an interview with WFDD, he explained he spent his childhood in eastern North Carolina and grew up in a family of public servants. 

“I had an uncle that served as a mayor and uncle that had served as a fire chief,” he says. “My family was very involved, not in local politics, but just in community outreach. I was an Eagle Scout. And so I had always been in that mindset of helping with the community.”

When he enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate, he decided to pursue both political science and religion and see which one fit best. Eventually, he branched out from political science into public administration — that’s what his master’s degree is in. 

He held various local government positions including budget analyst and assistant city manager before accepting his first city manager job in 2013. It’s a role that straddles two worlds, he says.

“My job is focused on working with elected officials and making sure that we're bringing them the best information that we can as to what policies need to be enacted, what programs are needed, what the community is looking for,” he says. ”And then working with staff really on a day-to-day basis on how do we deliver those services to the community.”

For example, he may spend a morning listening to city council members explain why their constituents are upset with leaf collection services. His job is to then turn around and brainstorm solutions to the problem with the city staff members who manage that service, and then bring those solutions back to council for approval. That’s on top of the day-to-day work of managing all of the city’s services.

“It's public safety, making sure that you're safe, it's having good recreation facilities, keeping our sanitation system going, getting the yard waste picked up. And we're providing water and sewer so that folks have those utilities available to them. We're providing fire protection service. There's engineering, transportation,” he says. “It’s very complex.” 

It’s a long list, which may explain why the city manager is often the highest-paid city employee. Right now, Pate says he’s doing his best to learn everything he can about each department he oversees — talking to staff, learning the ins and outs of their jobs, and their goals for the future. He’s doing the same thing outside of city hall. 

“My primary priority right now is basically going on a listening tour in the community to find out what the community thinks of themselves,” he says. “What do they think we're doing really well? Where do they think we need improvements? And then from that develop a strategy as to how do we move the community forward the way our residents want us to move.”

He says affordable housing has surfaced in some of these early conversations, both in the community and in city council. It’s a problem that came up in his previous job in Virginia as well.

“We approached it from two sides of the housing equation,” he says. “One is how much the house costs. And the other one is how much a person can afford to pay. So you can tackle it from both ends.”

In Virginia, he focused on the latter by prioritizing workforce development and education programs. 

“I do think on the workforce development side, then you're investing in the individuals,” he says. “And so if the individual is interested in improving their job skills and improving their opportunities in life, then you really can make a difference there and help them do that.”

Addressing gun violence is also near the top of his list.

“What I have seen so far is that the vast majority of our community is very safe. I haven't been anywhere in the community, east or west that I haven't felt safe being in or walking around in. But there are pockets of concern,” he says.  “And the issue there is to figure out why do we have these areas that are precipitating that kind of a culture that we want to get rid of, and figuring out how to deal with that.”

He noted that the Winston-Salem Police Department is understaffed, and says he’s focused on changing that.

“That's one of the things that I have done a lot of in my prior positions is working on making sure that we had the programs in place to not only recruit our police officers or other employees, but to have a culture where they want to stay,” he says. “That retention piece is just as important as bringing them in to start with.”

His overall goal for his position is an ambitious one: to improve the lives of all city residents.

“If I had to say there's one thing I'm excited about doing it’s continuing to look at what things are we doing in the community to make sure everybody has a quality of life that they really want here in Winston-Salem, and that's the whole community,” he says. “Making sure that we're delivering services so that everybody has equal access to all those really great things that are going on here.”

Pate is encouraging residents to share their concerns with him and local elected officials. That can be done at the next city council meeting, scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at Winston-Salem’s city hall. 


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