051220_new city manager

New Brunswick city manager Regina McDuffie’s first day on the job was Monday.

Regina McDuffie thought her biggest challenge would be learning names, faces and understanding the political landscape when she accepted the Brunswick city manager’s job in March.

She also understood one of her early priorities would be to develop a budget for the new fiscal year.

By the time she showed up for her first day of work in mid May, those challenges were dramatically changed.

She took over day-to-day city operations amid growing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak and protests about the Ahmaud Arbery shooting death.

Instead of developing a budget for the city with a positive economic outlook, the uncertainty of the pandemic made it challenging to forecast how the local economy would be impacted.

Already in the midst of COVID-19 guidelines for her job as Macon County manager before leaving, she already knew many of the necessary precautions and recommendations needed in Brunswick.

But McDuffie said she wasn’t aware of the Arbery shooting death or the growing controversy until a week before she moved to Brunswick in mid May. The shooting, which happened outside the city limits, was a tragedy, McDuffie said.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the goal of meeting as many people as possible hasn’t gone as originally planned, but McDuffie said she has held about 100 meetings in person or via teleconference to introduce herself to as many people as possible.

“My job has been made very comfortable,” she said.

Her preferred way to meet is in person because she can see facial expressions and body language, but the pandemic has made virtual conversations safer and more practical, she said.

“In-person meetings, you get a better feel for people,” she said.

Under the circumstances, McDuffie said she is settling into the new job and will continue to work to move city projects forward.

Though she accepted the job under difficult circumstances, McDuffie is optimistic about the city’s future.

“We are in no more of a hole than anywhere else in the world,” she said. “We are still under the cloud of the pandemic. When the cloud is lifted, we will do better economically.”

Mayor Cornell Harvey praised McDuffie for her job performance under unexpected conditions.

“I think she’s done an excellent job,” he said. “She’s got great experience and everybody’s happy with her performance.”

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