Brent Trout has his job cut out for him as Topeka’s city manager.
The city is in the midst of a transformation. Downtown businesses are blooming, and residents and officials throughout the city are committed to making Kansas’ capital a dynamic destination. But public perception remains a problem. Work remains in infrastructure and education, job opportunities and public safety.
In other words, Trout will need to embrace the positive change bubbling up from the grassroots while handling the challenges that might keep everyone in Topeka from sharing an improved city. No easy feat, even for the most qualified city executive.
Trout has already been saying and doing the right things. His contract requires him to live in the city, which seems like an excellent idea. He will demonstrate his attachment to the city and its fate every day, simply by using the same roads, visiting the same businesses and paying the same taxes as everyone else in Topeka.
He has also complimented the Momentum 2022 effort, a wide-ranging improvement initiative that aims to tackle the city’s challenges head on.
“I’m very impressed with the direction the community is going,” Trout told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “(Topeka) has a lot of people working hard to make the community better and I’m excited to work with them.”
Questions remain, of course, as they would in the selection of any executive for a city as diverse as Topeka. The pool of candidates for the job was exclusively white men. Although information provided by the city last month showed that 89 percent of applicants were male and 82 percent were white, city leaders should ask themselves why that was the case.
Trout himself will shoulder a formidable task. While he has worked in city management for a quarter-century, he oversees a town of just 30,000 in Mason City, Iowa. While he has also spent ample time in the military handling logistics, there is no doubt he will have learning to do upon arriving in Topeka.
Doug Gerber, who has ably filled in as city manager since Colson’s departure, will speak with Trout next month, along with other leaders. There’s much to be learned, on all sides, and quickly.
When Trout spoke with The Capital-Journal, he sounded confident: “It’s obviously going to be different, but I’m ready.”
So is Topeka.