New top deputy from Oak Ridge, Tenn.

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Soon-to-be-Tennessee transplant Bruce Applegate begins Dec. 9 as assistant city manager in Covington.

Assistant city manager hired with former Covington mayor’s help

COVINGTON, Ky. - More than 140 people applied to be Covington’s new assistant city manager.
When the process was over, the candidate who emerged - the one deemed most qualified and the “best fit” by everyone involved in the selection - came from 250 miles to the south ... with an assist from a man who served as Covington’s mayor more than 30 years ago.
Tuesday night, the Covington City Commission voted 5-0 to hire Bruce Applegate, personnel director/director of administrative services in the City of Oak Ridge, Tenn. He begins in Covington on Dec. 9.
“Frankly, I don’t know why you didn’t have more applicants,” Applegate said after the meeting. “I feel like I lucked out with this position.”
Applegate replaces Frank Warnock, who left Covington in January to become city administrator of Bellevue in Campbell County.
Applegate has seven years’ experience helping to manage Oak Ridge, a community that like Covington has worked to carve out its own identity in the shadow of a much larger neighbor.
At Oak Ridge, which isn’t far from Knoxville, he dealt with many of the issues currently facing Covington, including the balancing act between taxes and tax incentives, the pursuit of federal money, the growing costs of public pensions, aging infrastructure, and City Hall’s ongoing effort to update policies, procedures and best practices.
‘Infectious enthusiasm’
But City Manager David Johnston said it was several intangible factors -- Applegate’s interest in Covington and his passion for being here - that separated him from the other applicants.
“Bruce brings not just technical experience from his years as an administrator but also an infectious enthusiasm that was noticed by everyone involved in the interview process,” Johnston said.
That weighed in his favor for two reasons.
“One, a big part of our success at City Hall is the ‘team atmosphere’ among senior staff here, and the managers who interviewed Bruce were extremely confident that he would mesh well with the team,” Johnston said. “And two, Bruce and his wife really want to be part of this community, meaning we think they will mesh with the community as well.”
Former mayor helps out
Applegate said Covington had an advocate in Oak Ridge: Tom Beehan. The former Covington mayor, who led the City in 1984-87, was finishing his last term as mayor of the Tennessee city when Applegate began there. “He wouldn’t stop singing your praises,” Applegate said. “He told me I really needed to check you out.”
From the time they arrived and ate lunch in Covington for the first time, Applegate said, he and his wife, Stephanie, quickly grew enthralled.
“Everybody from the waitress to people on the street were happy to share ‘the story of Covington,’ ” he explained. “You already have what communities around the country want - a sense of community.”
That feeling deepened with each visit, he explained, and “we came back several times.”
Consequently, during the interview, Applegate emphasized his and his wife’s appreciation of the “character” of Covington and the values of inclusiveness and diversity that have come to define it.
With an interest in housing rehabilitation, he said he was taken with Covington’s architecture and unique historic buildings and the penchant for rehab and adaptive re-use of them. Applegate also has a long history of community involvement, including helping residents rehab blighted buildings, greenway cleanup, work upholding the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and volunteer service to the local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.
Prior to his current role at Oak Ridge, Applegate served as assistant to the city manager and interim city clerk. Oak Ridge has about 30,000 people is best known as the production site for the Manhattan Project in 1942. It is still home to the nuclear and high-tech Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Applegate has a Master’s degree in public administration and public policy from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Purdue University.
Johnston said Applegate will have several specific roles in Covington - including leading future collective bargaining negotiations and helping the City move toward priority-based budgeting - as well as an array of general ones, generally serving as a resource for department heads and managers.
“We look forward to him arriving and helping him get settled in,” Johnston said.
Commissioners on Tuesday took turns welcoming Applegate, with Tim Downing - who was on the commission’s interview panel - reiterating that “Bruce was an outstanding candidate.”
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Posted on November 27, 2019.