Excited, yet sad — that’s how city manager Eric Norenberg feels about stepping down at the end of the month as he takes a manager position in Milford, Del.
“I’ll miss this town,” he said, reflecting on the past eight years leading Oberlin.
“At this particular point in time I think I can leave Oberlin knowing the city’s in a financially sound condition and that’s not something that I take credit for. A lot of people, every city employee worked hard to get us to this point,” Norenberg said.
The city has battled through the national recession, terrible interest rates, and impacts of local government funding cuts during his tenure.
Norenberg said those items deeply hurt the city’s general fund over the past five years.
“I think we all worked hard together to keep us under control, save money where we could. Every employee sacrificed wage increases for at least three years, some of us more than that, and ultimately we still needed the help of a tax increase,” he said. “We are in a much more stable position now and we were able to do that without any layoffs.”
He is proud the city could keep quality of services high during those hard times.
The city’s downtown area has continuously thrived over the years, which Norenberg attributes to the work of community members, city officials, business owners, and shoppers.
“All of us together helped make Oberlin’s downtown one that’s strong and vibrant even throughout the economic tough period of our state,” Norenberg said.
When hired in October 2007, one of the first tasks he tackled was implementing Oberlin’s first human resources department, which updated job descriptions, policies, and standardized other city departments.
Prior to accepting the city manager job here, Norenberg held a variety of positions with the city of Mesa, Ariz. including a special assistant to the city manager.
“When I got into the city management business I said someday my dream job would be a city manager for a college town,” Norenberg said. “Eight years ago, I hit that mark.”
He admitted he’s going to miss having a college or university nearby in Delaware because Norenberg believes a college brings a vibrancy and unique characteristic to a town.
“I’ll certainly miss many people in the neighborhood and throughout the community,” he said. “But most of all I’ll miss the employees I work with every day.”
One project Norenberg wishes he could have seen move forward during his time in Oberlin was the development of the 15-acre Green Acres site on the east side of town.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t complete the Green Acres initial phase of that development so that project could be underway,” he said. “I think housing on that site is the appropriate use and I think we had a good plan presented by The Community Builders. I think the city missed an opportunity by not moving forward with that.”
The opening of Lorain County Health and Dentistry on South Main Street, the next phase of the Oberlin Underground Railroad Center, and repairing streets in town are all milestones Norenberg sees benefitting the city in 2016.
Norenberg is excited to take his skills to Milford and help the growing city improve in the coming years.
The city is almost completely residential with nearly 10,000 people living there. Due to Milford’s growth patterns the community is spread out and the city’s services are stretched, he said.
Its downtown area is more spread out than Oberlin’s and has a river cutting through the downtown area.
The people, location, and rapid growth is what made Norenberg interested in the city. “Everybody I met on my first two visits were very friendly and welcoming,” he said. “What I have seen is the community is very welcoming to newcomers. The community has a strong sense of volunteering.”
Milford’s community organizations are quick to engage new residents on boards, commissions, and volunteering opportunities, he said.
Norenberg said Milford officials are interested in making their downtown area a destination for the arts.
One of the main tasks he will oversee when he takes office in January is the first phase of construction for a major health care campus. That will also entail deciding will happen to Milford’s former hospital.
“There’s a lot already underway and it’s an opportunity for me to kind of guide and enable more to happen,” Norenberg said. “It’s an area that’s going to grow and continue to grow.”
Norenberg said he thinks his experience with Oberlin’s downtown and his previous jobs in Arizona — where he oversaw rapid growth in Mesa — will give him an advantage in Delaware.
His last day as a city employee is Dec. 31 but he plans to use vacation time at the end of the month to spend time with his family and begin moving.
The last day he’ll have time in office will be Dec. 23.
Finance director Sal Talarico will serve as the city’s interim manager until a new leader is hired.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.
Valerie Urbanik | Oberlin News-Tribune
City manager Eric Norenberg stands at his favorite park in Oberlin, Martin Luther King Jr Park.