Kim Haws brings experience, enthusiasm, and readiness for a pick-up game.
Next month, we’ll have a new city manager. Kim Haws comes to us after 20 years as city manager of Bridgeport, a half-hour south on Interstate 79. Bridgeport is admired statewide for its economic development—maybe you’ve been to Mia Margherita in the expansive Charles Pointe development or Bonnie Belle’s Pastries in the upscale White Oaks business park—and the state-of-the-art Bridgeport Recreation Complex.
Having lived and worked in West Virginia for over 20 years, Haws brings knowledge and networks that will let him hit the ground running. At the same time, he’ll plug right into our diverse little city. He grew up primarily in Mexico City and Arizona—he still speaks Spanish. After he earned degrees in public administration and counseling in Arizona, he served as city manager of St. Johns, Arizona, and East Palestine, Ohio.
We caught up with Haws to learn his views on city management, family, and fun.
Q: You’ve been a city manager for a long time. What is your greatest strength in the role?
KH: I believe that the city manager needs to be very active in the community in order to understand its culture and how one can contribute to quality of life. It’s not the type of position you can dabble in—you have to immerse yourself in it. So I think one of my strengths is that I get very involved with people. I integrate well. And I would say that I’m a very good communicator.
Q: What municipal issues are closest to your heart?
KH: There’s a perspective that lumps all government employees into the same mold, as bureaucrats who tend to put in more barriers than avenues to resolve problems. So one of the things I really work hard at is to encourage our staff to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. That paradigm change really does make us more effective public servants. I’ve also spent a lot of my career on economic development, fostering public-private relationships that have to exist in order for economic development to occur.
Q: Morgantown is four times the size of Bridgeport, more still when you account for the students. How do you expect the dynamic to be different in a bigger city, from your office’s perspective?
KH: I thought a lot about that even before applying for the position. I’m going to have to rely more upon other people to make things happen, because I’m not going to be able to have quite the hands-on approach that I have had in a smaller community. But I’m going to be blessed with a really good staff here. I’ve met many of the key staff, and I’m really impressed with their level of competence and their love of the community.
Also, with a larger community base comes more expertise. We can tap into resources at the university, and there’s the broader base of community nonprofit organizations and efforts going on in Morgantown. So I see Morgantown’s larger size as a great opportunity, not as something that would be burdensome.
Q: We’ve struggled all through COVID to create outdoor dining spaces downtown. What could be done to make that easier next year?
KH: Outdoor dining needs to not just be a reaction to COVID. If outdoor dining can be made part of the downtown ambience and not something we’re forcing on people, I think it changes the mood and perspective of downtown and of the businesses themselves, and it becomes something they choose to do because it makes sense to them. We’ve got to create pockets where people feel it’s pleasant. I don’t know what the plans are for that—I’m going to need to study that more.
Q: Morgantown magazine has taken an interest in the idea of changing our city charter to the strong mayor form of government, in which we would elect our mayor directly. What are your thoughts?
KH: I’ve gone into cities where there’s a strong mayor form. What happens is, every time there’s a change in the political leadership, there’s not as much emphasis on long-term planning—the planning becomes focused on what’s most expedient, what’s most visible. Both work; obviously Charleston and Huntington have strong mayor forms. But I think it changes the dynamic a little bit. It politicizes the day-to-day operations of the city, and I think that would be the big difference.
Q: What do you see as Morgantown’s potential?
KH: Morgantown’s at the foot of the Appalachian mountains, where there are unending recreational opportunities. It’s the center of Rails-to-Trails efforts that link different parts of this whole region together. I’m aware of a huge effort to try to bring back the waterway as an economic tool. You throw into that the university, development of the airport, and the area being a retail hub for the entire north central part of the state as well as southern Pennsylvania, and I think the potential is limitless from a development standpoint. The key here is, how do we manage that growth so we don’t lose sight of the quality of life we expect? With all the emphasis on pedestrian walkways and rail-trails and biking, I think if we can keep our eyes on green space as well as those types of amenities at the same time that there’s other growth going on around it, there’s such great potential
Q: Morgantown has had a new city manager every few years for the past decade. You’ve had a long career already—should we expect you to retire in a few years?
KH: I talked with City Council about this. The thing I think sets me apart is that I’m not looking for this as a stepping stone—I see it as an opportunity to bring 30-some years of experience to benefit the community. If in a few years I feel I’m still being productive and the Council feels I’m being productive, I don’t see myself leaving.
Q: Tell us about your family.
KH: My wife, Toni, and I knew each other in high school, and we’ve been married for 46 years this year. She’s an RN who has chosen most of that time to stay home with family and kids and raise them. We were foster parents for 26 years of our younger lives, and we adopted three of our foster children, so we have 10 children altogether and 30 grandchildren. When we get together, we’d probably fill the Event Center at the Marriott. It’s a joyous occasion, and loud.
Two of our children live in West Virginia and five are living within a few hours of us, so we’re really right in the hub of where our kids are.
Q: What do you do for fun?
KH: I’ve been registered with the Boy Scouts of America for probably 45 years. I was a scoutmaster for each one of my boys, so five times, and I have served on executive boards of the different councils, so I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors with young men, and teaching them. I like woodworking. I’m a violinist—I played in the Arizona State University symphony when I was getting my undergraduate degree there and have kept it up over time. And I still play basketball, for fun and exercise.
Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
KH: I think this is really going to be a great experience for me and for Morgantown. I’ve spent a lot of time at the state and regional levels creating alliances and networks that I think will be beneficial as we work together to grapple with some of the issues that the city faces. I’m excited about it. I think it’s going to be a vibrant, exciting time.