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New administrator steers town through unfamiliar waters

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

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All eyes will be on Jonesborough next week — especially those of new Town Administrator Glenn Rosenoff — as Tennessee’s oldest town kicks off a new July 4 Block Party celebration.

“This party is a message that says we are open for business,” Rosenoff said in a recent interview from his Town Hall office.

It’s also a message he hopes comes across loud and clear — both for area residents and the many local merchants worried about their futures.

On board just since May, Rosenoff has been battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic since the day he first walked through the doors of Town Hall.

It’s been a balance, he said, of trying to navigate between individual safety and economic survival. And he is hoping this July 4th event may be a step to recovery.

“We can’t stop commerce,” Rosenoff said. “We can’t expect to take a time out from commerce and expect these downtown merchants to be able to have enough in reserve.

“And I think people are desiring and itching to get out and do something. I think a lot of people want to be safe, and they want to come to an event and be safe.”

How to do that is the question – and the challenge.

Drawn to Jonesborough in part because of its growing economic opportunities and jam-packed events schedule, in addition to its historic charm, it didn’t take long for its new town manager to realize that a different plan might be needed to secure its future. 

A native of Canada, Rosenoff had first considered law enforcement and criminology before he turned to city planning as a course of study at East Tennessee State University.

His bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from ETSU  “taught me be to be methodical about things,” he said. But it was in ETSU’s city management program that he hit his stride.

“You had great professors and great teachers like John Campbell; former city managers and current city managers were teaching it,” Rosenoff said. “So that was the direction I went.”

From there it was on to the state planning office, where he would work on everything from land use controls, to annexations, to working with the general public to subdivide property.

“It was basically how to grow the community,” he said. 

Rosenoff  also got to engage with many local governments, especially smaller municipalities like Jonesborough and Washington County. There was networking and partnering, and eventually a job as town recorder – similar to the position of town administrator – with the town of Erwin, where Rosenoff served for six years.

When Jonesborough called, he faced a bittersweet decision, but one he also couldn’t resist.

“For planning and economic development, Jonesborough is hitting all these different boxes,” Rosenoff said. “And one of the unique aspects of Jonesborough is their tremendous momentum of events.”

Still, when the pandemic hit, Rosenoff acknowledged that some of those boxes faced an uphill battle.

“It was like an accordion of events,” he said. “And all the sudden pandemic hits, and that accordion, those events, start to shrink.”

And with the shrinkage, many local businesses began to suffer.

Rosenoff believes the key to moving forward for the community and its merchants may be found neither in the suspension of all events nor an immediate resurrection of those same events. Rather, he said, the solution could lie somewhere in between.

The town has already began a gradual reopening of certain events and venues.

“If you cannot have these large gatherings, then you have more of the smaller gatherings,” he explained. “I believe that people want to spend their money locally to support locals.”

The upcoming block party fits right into that scenario. 

“If you look at tradition and Jonesborough Days, this isn’t Jonesborough Days. It’s a block party,” he explained. “That balance between what the CDC says, what Gov. Lee says, what the Tennessee Pledge says.”

“It is local downtown merchants-oriented. It’s not just one business. It’s all of them.”

Finally, he stressed, “it’s also a showcase and an example of during these challenging times, you can still be outside, walking downtown, going into the shops, spending money. And supporting the local economy.”

Town officials will be watching the July 4th party to see what works – and what doesn’t. It may take some trial and error, a lot of listening and everyone working together, but Rosenoff believes Jonesborough has what it takes to survive. The opportunities, he said, are out there.

“You can go talk to a furniture store, and I almost guarantee you they have seen a surge in sales,” he said. “Lowes, you would think they were giving everything away for free. There is just a surge of people, they are spending more money locally.

“That’s one of the things. How do we balance being safe and continuing to have a robust economy, not just in the business corridors, but also the downtown? And that’s a balancing act of being safe and knowing that all of our business corridors, wherever they are, have to be successful.”