The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Q&A: New Clovis city manager always 'wanted to serve'


August 13, 2017

CLOVIS — Incoming Clovis City Manager Justin Howalt assumes the new position Oct. 2, taking the reins from Interim City Manager Tom Phelps and vacating his role as executive director for the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.

Howalt, who grew up in Clovis and graduated from New Mexico State University in 1999, worked in Texas and Florida before returning in 2009 to work as the city engineer in Clovis. His three-year contract for city manager stipulates he will also fulfill city engineer responsibilities. The News interviewed Howalt on Friday:

Question: What attracted you to the position of city manager and what in your experience makes you a good match for the job?

Howalt: Dedication to public service is mainly what attracts me to it. I've worked in public service throughout my career and now I'm still working in public service with (ENMWUA). I've always felt like I wanted to serve.

Having worked with the city in the past as the city engineer and head of the public works departments, I felt like I had a pretty good background knowledge of what the different departments with the city of Clovis do. I felt like I knew a little bit about each of them - not the day-to-day details of what they do but enough to be able to work with them.

Q: What do you think are the most important issues for Clovis in the short term and in the long term, and how will you begin to address them?

Howalt: The first major concern is water. Our Water Policy Advisory Committee has started to work on that and just recently released their plan.

There are always infrastructure needs out there for communities — roads, wastewater and utilizing reuse water. Then parks — parks are always in the public interest. Those are the really visible items that are out there.

Then there are different departments — you have older adults; what are we doing for our seniors? Our library, how is that advancing?

What I'd really like to do when I start off is get to meet with each department to find out what their vision is, what they have going on currently and what they hope to see in the future. Then we can figure out how we can work together to advance.

Q: How do you plan to balance your responsibilities as both city manager and city engineer?

Howalt: The overlapping roles are something that I think will work hand in hand together.

In my city engineer days I did work closely with the city manager. When you start dealing with large infrastructure projects it affects a lot of the citizenry, so you always kept that individual as the city manager involved and up to date on what was happening. So now it's just keeping myself up to date.

I'll be able to provide technical oversights to projects, however from a time management standpoint I'm not going to have time to sit down and design projects. Consultants will definitely still have a part in the advancement of projects.

Previously when (Larry Fry) was hired as city manager (in 2015), Claire Burroughes was promoted to assistant city manager. So of course I'll have her assistance in being able to work with the various departments and to be able to find a good balance between the roles.

Q: What do you see as your legacy with the water authority and how will you ensure a smooth transition to the next executive director?

Howalt: We've accomplished a lot in this two-year time period to continue to advance this project.

I think we've accomplished a lot of good things, and when I say "we" it's obviously myself and all the board members. I just happen to be the one that was there for the day-to-day operations of the authority.

We have seen federal dollars spending going up and we are in a position to be able to get out on construction on some of the pipeline in the fall.

When I came on board, the city of Clovis still was providing a lot of fiscal oversights and a lot of the accounting type procedures. We've been able to branch away and kind of establish ourselves as our own organization.

I'm not going to stop doing things that typically would be done - there's still reporting to various funding agencies that needs to go on.

And of course, working with the board to help transition and find a replacement is what I'm going to be focusing on as well.

Q: Where would you like to see Clovis — in 10 years, in 50 years — and what part will you have in bringing it there?

Howalt: I truly believe we live in the best community in the state of New Mexico and in the country. I think it's important that we have opportunities for our citizens to have nice facilities — to be able to live in a community where there's economic growth and where they can advance.

I want to make it a place where kids coming out of high school or kids coming out of college want to come and live.

One person obviously can't make all that happen. It takes a team. However, I can work with the individual departments, work with the commissioners and work with the citizens to make this a place where people want to grow up and stay and retire and live.

I think we can do a lot of neat things. I think Mr. Phelps and Mr. Fry did a fantastic job and I look forward to following in their footsteps.


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