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Finding the ‘city’s heartbeat’

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Curtis Micheals Photo City Manager, Joe Neeb enjoys managing the city of Roswell. He wants everyone to feel like they can participate in their government.

Joe Neeb has been managing the city of Roswell for almost two years now. His ethic of service, voice, and relationship help him do it to the best of his ability.

“We’re stewards of the day,” Joe said. “We’re only here for a short window of time. I am very active in our church. I’ve been a servant/manager for all my career. Even when I was growing up, it was always service of others that helped make the day go the right way. It’s that servant leadership that helps me go through the day, it’s what governing a city is supposed to be about.

“Managing the city is all about the relationships. Taking care of the people that you’re responsible for. Whether it be for the employees of the city or the citizens, I try to bring my skillsets to bear to make their lives better.”

Neeb grew up in the midwest. Family necessity brought him to his current career.

“I did facilities maintenance for about 13 years, for schools and universities,” he said. “That was in the ‘80s. The management gurus were out there. They taught that it’s relationships and service that make the difference between being successful or not. It’s always been a part of my internal clock.

“Dad passed away and mom got sick. I stopped my career in facilities maintenance and moved back home to take care of mom. I ended up in city management for Morristown, Indiana, population 1,200. Jack of all trades, master of none was my responsibility. There were only five of us working for the city.

“I cut my teeth there. Throughout the years, I’ve been a wastewater treatment operator, a certified water operator, I moved all the way through. Essentially, it was a christening by fire within the system. Over the years with larger populations, responsibilities changed.”

Having to think on his feet and handle many problems at once are what make the work exciting for him.

“When you get into the city government, it’s a constantly moving factor,” Neeb said. “Whether it be public safety. Whether it be the services that everybody’s supposed to be provided. Whether it be the quality of life with the park systems. I think that’s what attracted me more.”

Everybody’s got a story, and Neeb tries to help people hear each other’s stories.

“I believe storytelling is very important,” he said. “When you can take your experiences and put them into a format so somebody else can understand them, you can make a connection. If we don’t have the background, if we don’t understand how we got where we are today, then we make mistakes we could have avoided. One of the things we try to do in Roswell is to try to tell the story better.”

Neeb pointed out that 70 percent of problems are easily solved. It’s the 30 percent that keeps him busy.

“When there’s a controversial issue, and emotions run high,” he said, “the people who care about the issue show up at a meeting to try to express their concern. What they can lose sight of is that the City Council has to look at the issue in a broader level. That can be hard for someone who’s emotionally tied to that matter.

“The elected official may not share your viewpoint on an issue. They still deserve to be contacted and told what your viewpoint is. There’s room in this community for everybody. It doesn’t matter what your political party, religion, ethnicity or anything else is. They all play a part in making the community a whole. We have to remember that everybody is doing the best they can with the information they have.”

He works a great deal as a facilitator.

“My role is to make sure that the City Council has all the information,” Neeb said, “so that when they make a decision, it’s based on the whole issue.

“I’ll drive when I have to but I’m happy to be a team player. I don’t need to be in front. It doesn’t have to be my way ever. Hopefully, the City Council sees that as well. I’m going to give them my recommendation. But if they choose another way, it’s my job to make sure that we go that way. If I’m going to brood and kick the trashcan because it didn’t go the way I wanted it to, then I’m not doing my job. It’s not my job to change the city. It’s my job to find the heartbeat and then put my skills to the support of that heartbeat.”

The thing he needs from the people is our voice.

“It’s not right to take anybody’s voice away,” Neeb said. “It’s trying to combine those voices into a chorus that’s going to function. We have to hear each other. We’re all different. We have to understand that we’re not always going to agree.

“We are all Roswell. We each got here in different ways, but we’re blended into one community. We’re stronger together than we’d ever be apart. The more we can hear each other, the more we can bring these voices altogether. Then we can overcome any obstacle out there. I’m a firm believer in that. I’ve got enough history that I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We’ve overcome some big obstacles when we understand what we really are.

“The diversity of our community is our strength. The more we accept that, the more we understand that, then the stronger we become as a community. At times, it’s hard to sit down with people who have a different opinion. But there should be a respect level that comes with that at all times.”

When he doesn’t hear from the public, he can’t get the whole story. That hamstrings him and the City Council.

“We talk a lot about apathy. When people get emotional, they want to be heard, and they vote more. The challenge is that we need those voices heard all the time. It’s your community and it all affects you. Roswell’s got a lot of great people. I see that in the Leadership Roswell class. We have a bright future. I want to take the mystery out of government and get information out there to everybody. Nothing we do is rocket science. It’s about explaining it so that everybody understands what’s happening.”

Neeb feels that he can make a lasting difference in the lives of Roswell’s citizens. He’s honored to give it his best.

“My wife and I are thankful that we were given the opportunity to serve in Roswell,” he said. “It’s our home. We live here and have no desire to give up on the city. That’s my commitment to everybody. As long as there’s value to my being here, I intend to be here to try to help. I don’t agree with everybody. Not everybody agrees with me. But at the end of the day, we can maintain that respect that we’re taking care of our home and we all have to work together to get that done.”