Newton’s new City Administrator Bob Knabel knows how big an impact Maytag can have on a community. He saw it firsthand during his time in Galesburg, Ill., a community that lost a Maytag production facility and jobs in 2004, three years before Maytag shut down Plant 2 in Newton.
Knabel served as city manager in Galesburg between 1987 and 1997 and owned a restaurant in that community for part of that time as well.
Knabel started last week in his role as Newton’s new city administrator. He brings a wide range of experience to the position coming most recently from Collinsville, Ill. near St. Louis has served over the years in city government in other communities throughout Illinois and even in New York.
Bouncing from community to community is not uncommon among city managers and is something Knabel sees as coming with the territory. As councils change, so does the direction a particular city is heading.
“Stability is five, six years, seven years — that’s the average tenure of a city administrator,” Knabel said, noting that over several election cycles, council members change and those who hire a particular administrator leave. New council members want to accomplish something different.
“They are not necessarily sold or bought into what maybe the direction was. So change occurs maybe every five or six years that way,” Knabel said. “What you want to try and do is to develop some sustainable plans that can transcend the council so the community as a whole is kind of moving together and not every five or six years changing course.”
To that end, Knabel sees plotting a course for Newton’s as one of the key issues facing the city. He sees the comprehensive plan update currently under way as helping Newton define what it wants to be in the future. Citizen participation is crucial to that process, he said, to ensure the plan reflects the community itself rather than being passed down from government.
“There’s been a strong effort to bring community engagement to the process so that’s positive,” he said. “We’re on that threshold of moving forward so it’s pretty important to continue that.”
Now 61, Knabel hopes Newton can be the final stop for his long career in city government. He has been married to his wife Linda for 39 years. They have two children and seven grandchildren. While he’s only been on the job in Newton for a week, he’s already enjoying one aspect of Iowa over Illinois: the political scene. Beyond that, he hopes to provide strong leadership for the community.
“We ought to be about good government. We ought to be about providing high levels of service. We need to be high performing. We need to provide excellence in our operations,” he said. “All of those are things I will certainly strive to provide here.”