Tim Rooney’s transition from Borough Manager in Wrangell, Alaska to City Manager in Mustang, Oklahoma was no small task. It took months of planning for not only the City but Rooney himself. Last week, he was given a warm welcome from City officials and citizens alike as he started his new job.
"I am very excited to be in Mustang," Rooney said. "I am looking forward to meeting more people and learning more about the lay of the land."
The Mustang Times documented Rooney’s move from Alaska to Mustang and followed along during his first five days as the new City Manager. We also found out what the new City Manager hopes to see in Mustang in the near future, down the road and what challenges lie ahead.
The Move - From Alaska to Mustang
Tim Rooney finally arrived in Mustang on Tuesday, Aug. 13 after about a 3,000 mile drive from Wrangell, Alaska. He had served as the Wrangell Borough Manager for the past four years before the City of Mustang approved his contract earlier this year.
"I was just happy to not be in a moving vehicle, whether it was a car or a boat," he said.
Before making the long trip to Oklahoma, Rooney sold his home along with furniture.
His mother, Meridel, flew to Alaska from New Jersey to make the trip with him.
"The borough of Wrangell is an island about 150 miles south of Juneau in the Alaska panhandle, so the only way to drive out of it is to take a ferry or fly by plane," he said.
Rooney made stops in Idaho and Colorado before driving into Oklahoma. Once he was in Oklahoma, he was surprised by several things.
"I was surprised how green everything was here from all the rain," he said. "It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be either, which is nice."
Rooney had worked for the City of Owasso for 17 years before he went to Alaska and was more than familiar with Oklahoma weather.
He worked as Owasso’s community development director from 1994 to 1998 and then worked as the city’s Assistant City Manager from 1998 to 2009.
For two years, he worked with Janet Watts in Owasso, who is now Mustang’s Finance Director. He said if it wasn’t for Janet planting the bug in his ear, he would not have known about the opening.
"I was thinking of looking somewhere else to work when Janet called me to tell me about the opening in Mustang," he said. "I always had a good working relationship with her in Owasso and I trust her knowledge completely, so I checked it out."
After landing the job last summer, Rooney started the process to move from Alaska to Oklahoma, a very big task.
"I just had a sensory overload when I got to Oklahoma because everything in Alaska is just so different," he said. "I had to wear a sweatshirt on the Fourth of July in Alaska, when it is usually very hot in Oklahoma."
There are no traffic lights in Wrangell and the cost of living was much higher in Alaska, Rooney said.
"A gallon of gas when I left Alaska was $4.78 a gallon and a two liter of soda was four bucks," he said.
Rooney rented a home in Mustang, but stayed in a hotel his first two nights.
"I didn’t have anything in my new house yet and my other belongings were being shipped by truck and they won’t be here for another couple of weeks," he said. "I spent my first couple of days here buying new furniture and getting things arranged."
Being a die-hard football fan, Rooney said he was thrilled to be back a state where football is king.
"Football isn’t popular at all in Alaska and I know it is a big thing in Oklahoma," he said.
"Football season is something I am really looking forward to this year."
Day 1 -
Monday, Aug. 19
Rooney walked into Mustang City Hall around 7 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 19, his first official day as City Manager.
"You will see me here early every day, at 7 a.m. usually," Rooney said. "In the afternoons, I try to leave time to meet with people and citizens."
Rooney had his first staff meeting that morning at 9:30 a.m. He provided department heads with a list of questions.
"I asked them several things, like, ‘What is your proudest accomplishment here,’ and ‘If there was one thing you would change in Mustang, what would it be,’" Rooney said. "I just wanted to get some ideas from the department heads."
After that, Rooney responded to Emails and calls from citizens.
At noon he treated City staff to a lunch at Swadley’s and met with the City Attorney and City Clerk to review items on the City Council agenda for the next day.
Day 2 -
Tuesday, Aug. 20
Rooney’s second day on the job was a busy one.
He was formerly introduced by Mayor Jay Adams to other community leaders at a weekly coffee called ‘Positive Posse.’
"We went through 52 applicants and I told everyone that I would not settle for just anyone," Mayor Adams said at the coffee. "We deserve the best of the best and I believe we hit a home run with this. But it was a heck of a job getting him down here."
Rooney shared some experiences from his job interview in Mustang, which took place on May 31, the same day a large storm devastated the City.
"I was staying at a hotel off Interstate 40 in Yukon when we got hit by that storm," Rooney said. "I had breakfast with the Mayor the next morning and he asked me, ‘Do you still want to come here,’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’"
After the storm hit Mustang, Rooney spent the next day surveying the damage.
"I was impressed with how the City responded after the storm and it was nice seeing people helping other people," he said. "When I saw that, I knew this was the kind of community I wanted to be a part of."
Rooney was asked if he was married and if he had any children. He said he was single with no children.
"Good, that means you can work 24 hours a day," someone joked at the coffee.
Later that day, Rooney reviewed school traffic issues by the high school and attended his first City Council meeting that evening.
Day 3 -
Wednesday, Aug. 21
Rooney spent the morning of this third day meeting with the City’s street and public works contractors, Silver Star Construction and Severn Trent.
"I wanted to familiarize with their contracts in case there were more questions about them," he said. "I know there has been a lot of talk about them lately."
Rooney also met with Parks and Recreation Director Justin Battles, who served as Interim City Manager the six months prior to Rooney’s arrival. He met with Battles each day during his first week.
"Justin has been my first point of contact if I needed help with anything," he said. "He has been extremely helpful, including the Mayor."
Day 4 -
Thursday, Aug. 22
On Thursday morning, Rooney met with Fire Chief Carl Hickman.
"I am meeting with all the department heads over the course of the next week," Rooney said.
Next, he attended his first Mustang Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Thursday at the Chisholm Heights Baptist Church.
Later in the afternoon, he again met with Watts to go over the city’s budget before meeting with the library board that evening.
Day 5 -
Friday, Aug. 23
On his final day of his first week, Rooney again met with Battles, but this time to focus on what was going on at the Parks and Recreation Department before spending the afternoon with Community Development Director Robert Coleman.
The City of Mustang is going through an exciting time.
A new healthplex and new restaurants are coming and Town Center facilities are receiving makeovers. The public library and banquet hall are expanding and a new sports complex is being built thanks to an approved bond issue.
For Rooney, growth is a priority, but it will present its own challenges. He is transitioning from overseeing a borough the size of Connecticut to a city that is only 12 square-miles.
"It will be a challenge to find opportunities to grow in an area of that size," he said. "It should not be that difficult for us to bring a hotel here with the kind of community facilities we have here. That should be a sellable deal. I also want to make sure we get the healthplex up and going. There is no doubt that we are going to have some growing pains."
Rooney also addressed the city’s budget.
"There is no doubt that we have some financial concerns with the City," he said. "But I am confident with the people we have in place here that we will able to get a grip on that. I also want to update the City’s website. We should have a better website for the kind of City we are."
He also hopes to put into place some of the things he experienced during his time in Wrangell.
"The city council in Wrangell would also meet twice a month, but we would also hold work sessions in between every meeting to prepare for the meetings. That is when most of the discussion would take place," Rooney said. "That is something I am hoping to start with our City Council, maybe in January after the holiday season. We wouldn’t vote on any items, but it would give us a chance to discuss things that are coming up in the meetings to make sure everyone understands the items and to address any questions. It worked well in Wrangell and I think it could work here."
The City has seen several new department heads and employees come on board. City Clerk Lisa Martin was hired earlier this year, with Finance Director Janet Watts and Police Chief Chuck Foley being hired within the past two years.
"It is kind of nice to work with people like Janet and Lisa that are newer and every now and then we will ask each other, ‘Do you know why they do it this way,’ or, ‘Is there better way we can do this,’" Rooney said. "I think some things in the City have just been a certain way for so long and it is good to put a new perspective on things to see if there are ways to make them work better."
As for his first week as City Manager and the future, Rooney said he is ready to push Mustang forward. He said he encourages residents with any questions or concerns to call him at City Hall.
"I am ready to do it and I am just excited to be here," he said.
-Written by Jon Watje, Managing Editor