Botetourt County, Virginia
What would you say is your area of expertise?
One of the things that I pride myself in is to be able to bring resources back into the community, in which I work. That’s something that is as much art as it is science. My area of expertise would probably be something associated with that.
What do you think mayors in small towns should know that they don’t know?
There are a lot of things mayors in small towns need to know, and probably don’t know. Probably access to the greater picture of resources that are out there, in the communities, outside of the communities, being able to reach out to the university system, reaching out into the state, and into the different departments. Being able to do that without hesitation because there are so many people in programs out there to help you, if you actually access those programs.
How can mayors identify valuable resources?
One of the things that you can use as one of your most valuable resources are individuals and organizations that are already set up to support local communities. Those can be the Planning District Commission, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League. Other organizations such as the Governor’s Cabinet or the University Setting that could end up coming back and helping you and your community with your particular problem. A lot of people end up feeling like the problem is unique when in reality it’s probably something that other communities are dealing with. If you can get out to a higher level organization that has actually dealt with those problems before; you can get better solutions. You get more eyes focused on the problem and the solution as well, that might be intellectual capacity, financial availability, funding possibilities for projects or it might be in technical assistance. There are lots of resources in communities that are around.
What was the most surprising resource you successfully brought to your town?
One of the most surprising resources in my career, many years ago, was getting international experience and being able to learn in other communities around the world; to bring those resources back into our local community and getting out and seeing a broader picture of things.
What specifically was the resource and what was the community?
The community was in Florianopolis, Brazil, and it was an entrepreneurial center that was creating more business in Brazil than the rest of the nation as a whole. I visited, and ended up bringing that concept to our community, and today we have the CrossRoads Institute as a result of that.
So it was broadening your horizon?
Absolutely, broadening your horizon actually makes it more real. Whenever you see a larger opportunity that you can end up bringing into your community, you have achieved something that most communities cannot do.
What advice would you give mayors?
To get out of being a mayor. Just kidding. To be responsive to your people, try to understand that your employees are very valuable, and that they are experts in their arena. They are doing the good for the people, and in 99 percent of the cases when you get complaints about the employees, they are often unfounded. Go back and make sure you get both sides of the story before you end up making brass decisions.
That’s really interesting. Can you tell us more?
Yes, there are a lot of really high-end experts that are in the counties or the towns or the city governments, and people don’t necessarily see that from the public’s perspective. Like, “He said no to me.” Well, there’s a reason he said no, it’s because the state code says he has to say no. It’s not because that individual wants to say no to you and your zoning request or whatever that might be.
*At the time of this interview, Larrowe served as the county administrator for Carroll County.