Roanoke City Struggles To Retain Neighborhood Liaison, With Fourth Hire in Five Years

Some who served in the position felt their advocacy for neighborhoods and residents conflicted with the city’s position on issues.

A view of the Belmont neighborhood seen from the Mill Mountain Star Overlook Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, in Roanoke. PHOTO BY SCOTT P. YATES FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

For 15 years, Bob Clement served as Roanoke neighborhoods’ point person when dealing with city government.

As the city’s neighborhood services coordinator, Clement helped members of Roanoke’s two dozen neighborhood associations and watch groups navigate city hall  — from code enforcement issues to crime, potholes and public parks to trash pickup and flooding.

But since Clement retired in the fall of 2018, the city has cycled through three employees in that position.

In a couple weeks, Molly Hunter, currently a reporter at The Roanoke Times covering city hall, will become the city’s fourth neighborhood services coordinator in the last five years.

“The job is more difficult than most folks realize,” Clement, 70, said. “Because you're working for the city. But you're advocating for the neighborhoods, who, if you don't develop the right kind of relationships, can be a thorn in the city’s side.”

Interviews with those who served in the position identified two general concerns that contributed to their departures: Several felt their advocacy for neighborhoods and residents conflicted with the city’s position on issues. And some said that city leadership did not show material support for the office of neighborhood services, which has few resources and one employee, down from two full-time and one part-time employee before the Great Recession.

“If you look at the advertisement for the position, it's telling you to work on these equity things and advocate and all this kind of stuff. But I don't think that's really what they want,” said Tonya Pickett, who succeeded Clement and resigned in 2021 after feeling stymied by city leadership.

Antwyne Calloway, who left the position in June after nine months, said he did not feel he could advocate effectively for Roanoke residents.