New Covington Asst. City Manager Sold On City by Former Mayor

The City of Covington has a new assistant city manager.

Bruce Applegate was hired last Tuesday by a unanimous vote from the city commission. He comes from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he serves as an administrator.

This is not Covington's first tie to Oak Ridge. Tom Beehan served as mayor of both cities; he was mayor of Covington from 1984 to 1987 and then in Oak Ridge from 2007 to 2014.

According to a news release from the city, Beehan helped boost Applegate's efforts to land a job at Covington City Hall. Applegate was selected from more than 140 applicants.

"Frankly, I don't know why you didn't have more applicants," Applegate said. "I feel like I lucked out with this position."

Applegate replaces Frank Warnock, who left Covington in January to become city administrator of Bellevue.

Applegate has seven years of experience in helping to manage Oak Ridge, a community that like Covington has worked to carve out its own identity in the shadow of a much larger neighbor.

At Oak Ridge, which isn't far from Knoxville, Applegate dealt with many of the issues currently facing Covington, including the balancing act between taxes and tax incentives, the pursuit of federal money, the growing costs of public pensions, aging infrastructure, and City Hall's ongoing effort to update policies, procedures, and best practices.

But City Manager David Johnston said it was several intangible factors such as Applegate's interest in Covington and his passion for being here that separated him from the other applicants.

"Bruce brings not just technical experience from his years as an administrator but also an infectious enthusiasm that was noticed by everyone involved in the interview process," Johnston said.

That weighed in his favor for two reasons.

"One, a big part of our success at City Hall is the 'team atmosphere' among senior staff here, and the managers who interviewed Bruce were extremely confident that he would mesh well with the team," Johnston said. "And two, Bruce and his wife really want to be part of this community, meaning we think they will mesh with the community as well."

As for the Beehan connection, Applegate said the former Covington and Oak Ridge mayor played a strong role in the decision to apply.

"He wouldn't stop singing your praises," Applegate said. "He told me I really needed to check you out."

From the time they arrived and ate lunch in Covington for the first time, Applegate said, he and his wife, Stephanie, quickly grew enthralled.

"Everybody from the waitress to people on the street were happy to share 'the story of Covington,'" he said. "You already have what communities around the country want - a sense of community."

That feeling deepened with each visit, he explained, and "we came back several times."

Consequently, during the interview, Applegate emphasized his and his wife's appreciation of the "character" of Covington and the values of inclusiveness and diversity that have come to define it.

With an interest in housing rehabilitation, he said he was taken with Covington's architecture and unique historic buildings and the penchant for rehab and adaptive re-use of them. Applegate also has a long history of community involvement, including helping residents rehab blighted buildings, greenway cleanup, work upholding the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and volunteer service to the local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.

Prior to his current role at Oak Ridge, Applegate served as assistant to the city manager and interim city clerk. Oak Ridge has about 30,000 people and is best known as the production site for the Manhattan Project in 1942. It is still home to the nuclear and high-tech Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Applegate has a master's degree in public administration and public policy from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor's degree in political science and history from Purdue University.

Johnston said Applegate will have several specific roles in Covington - including leading future collective bargaining negotiations and helping the city move toward priority-based budgeting - as well as an array of general ones, generally serving as a resource for department heads and managers.

"We look forward to him arriving and helping him get settled in," Johnston said.

-Staff report

Photo provided