‘A very clear connection’
New deputy city manager talks about community engagement
“My role is to make sure there is a very clear connection between the government of Petersburg and its citizens, and we will use all sorts of creative energy to make sure it happens.” Darnetta K. Tyus, Deputy City Manager and Director of Community Affairs
PETERSBURG — As part of the restructuring of the city government, one of the first things new City Manager Aretha Ferrell-Benavides wanted to address was a position that would be responsible for engaging Petersburg’s citizens, making it easier to get involved in the community. That role has been filled by new Deputy City Manager and Director of Community Affairs Darnetta K. Tyus.
“My role is to make sure there is a very clear connection between the government of Petersburg and its citizens,” said Tyus. “And we will use all sorts of creative energy to make sure it happens.”
Tyus said one of the principals she hopes to spearhead is an environment of “collaboration and inclusion” in regards to engaging Petersburg’s citizens. She is the
first to hold a position within the city government whose role it is to create this type of atmosphere.
“We believe the difference here is that we’re not trying to figure out how to run the city on our own; we’re going to include the citizens of Petersburg in those discussions,” she said.
Tyus has held similar positions in the offices of economic development and planning in both Chicago and Washington D.C. Benavides first approached her just to solicit her opinion of Petersburg.
“When the city manager came aboard, she was instantly excited about this little town she had found,” said Tyus. “She didn’t necessarily talk to me about coming aboard, she just said ‘come down, and tell me if you see what I see’. What I saw was a city with an awful lot of potential, and that’s exciting to me.”
That visit motivated Tyus to take the job.
One of Tyus’ first and biggest initiatives will be in the form of a new volunteer program, that aims to get citizens involved beyond just regular volunteerism. The program will feature Petersburg citizens as “ambassadors.”
“It’s going to require a deeper investment on behalf of the citizens who choose to participate,” said Tyus. “It has several layers to it that we are going to institute, so it’s not just a volunteer program.”
Many citizens over the past year have stepped up in the wake of the city’s financial struggles, doing things like cutting overgrown grass and helping clean up local parks. Several area churches got together in July to do a full-scale cleanup of Poplar Lawn Park.
Tyus plans on taking advantage of the eagerness of Petersburg’s residents, saying they are “resources that the government does not tap into”.
“There are things that the community does that the government should be present at, and not just be present at, but [the government] should participate in,” said Tyus.
Tyus, who spent the last two weeks getting to know the area and its residents, said that she hopes the citizens are “ready”.
“As we go forward it’s going to be incumbent on us as a new government to build the kind of trust that causes the residents of Petersburg to join us and move forward,” she said.
Deputy City Manager and Director of Community Affairs Darnetta K. Tyus is photographed in Petersburg on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.
Deputy City Manager and Director of Community Affairs Darnetta K. Tyus is photographed in Petersburg on Thursday.