Weakland provided stability

Altoona City Manager Joe Weakland is retiring, ending a long career of service to the city that stretches over 40 years, including the last 17 as manager or interim manager.

Weakland, 67, submitted his notice last week, indicating that his decision is linked to family responsibilities.

City Council reacted quickly by naming Finance/Personnel Director Omar Strohm to serve as interim manager, at $99,000 annually, and by proposing a consulting contract with Weakland, to be paid approximately $46,800 in decreasing increments during what will be a transitional time.

In a Mirror story published Friday, former Altoona City Councilman and Mayor Wayne Hippo acknowledged that his perception of Weakland changed during his service to the city.

“When I first got elected in 1997, I was not a big Joe Weakland fan,” Hippo said.

At that time, Hippo said his impression was based on public perception of Weakland as a mere administrator, not someone willing to implement new ideas. But Hippo said that impression turned out to be highly inaccurate, because Weakland repeatedly embraced and pursued ideas to help the city.

Weakland has never come across to city residents as congenial, a fact that supports Hippo’s assessment of public perception. But Weakland apparently has an ability to work with others in a way that has made him our longest tenured city manager, since mid-1996 when he took the job on an interim basis.

Before Weakland, Altoona had three city managers – Robert Hagemann, Ted Wood and Ray Nearhood – from 1990 to 1996. Those were volatile years at City Hall when council members and managers regularly locked horns.

As Weakland departs, he has drawn praise for his support of a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone to provide tax forgiveness and promote development in East Juniata, reform of the city planning code which included a more user-friendly land development ordinance and his support of Penn State Altoona’s downtown development.

Weakland also has been a leader in the city’s never-ending work of code enforcement, blight control and budget control measures that delayed entry into the state’s Act 47 distressed municipalities program until last year.

We wish him well in his retirement.