Town Manager Norman Khumalo took part in a public forum in Watertown on Monday as part of his application for the city manager position there.
Khumalo, one of three finalists, did not address his reasoning for considering leaving Hopkinton after 13 years at Town Hall, but he explained what appeals to him about Watertown.
Khumalo pointed to the city’s financial health, highlighting its AAA bond rating (similar to Hopkinton) and its fully funded pension system. He also indicated the town is forward-thinking.
“It is clear that you’re committed to planning and thinking about the future of this community,” he said. “Historically you can look at your planning processes getting way, way, way back. This community has always prided itself in planning for its future. That’s why, as a planner, I looked to the City of Watertown when Massachusetts got really excited about mixed-used development, because you are doing it very well.
“You have also chosen to be a leader in the area of DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], sustainability and clean initiatives. And last but not least, you are a leader because you support your staff. There are clear demonstrations on your website as to how committed your community is to your City Hall staff. … You have dedicated, committed teams of volunteers as well as your paid staff. I would like to be part of that team.
“And then thirdly, the issues that you are working on, preserving the financial health and stability, addressing affordable housing, working on public transportation, working on climate change and the environment, these are issues that I also care about. As I read through the citizen consultation reviewing the role of city manager here in Watertown, it was pretty clear that the community wants to engage on those topics. And from my perspective, those are things I care about. I want to share with you the burden of developing a dialogue that will provide not just solutions for now but for the future.”
Khumalo took questions from residents and noted his roots, sharing that he served as a planner for the City of Bulawayo in his home country of Zimbabwe. Since emigrating to America, he has worked in a few communities in Massachusetts.
“I’m not coming in here saying — if I’m hired — that I have all the answers,” Khumalo said. “I have never believed that. I never take myself seriously. I want to be part of a larger team, be fortunate to be the facilitator and also share my experiences that I have earned over my career here in the U.S. and globally.”
Another round of interviews — this time with the City Council — is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.
The other finalists are John Curran, who is Billerica’s town manager, and George Proakis, who is the executive director of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development. The job came open with the resignation of Michael Driscoll in January.