The passage of a year and some change was all but forgotten on Monday as the city of Burlington welcomed back one former staff member to the same top-level position she left in the summer of 2021.
There was certainly no dearth of handshakes and hugs when Rachel Kelly resurfaced at Burlington’s city hall that evening, following the city’s formal announcement that she would resume her old role as its assistant city manager for administrative services on November 28.
A 10-year veteran of Burlington’s city staff, Kelly had originally clinched the assistant manager’s job in 2018, becoming both the youngest person and only woman to hold such a high-ranking post with the city in recent memory.
This wunderkind of city government nevertheless left Burlington’s employ in the summer of 2021 in order to serve as the director of advanced communications at UNC-Greensboro. Yet, the lure of academia apparently proved no match for the attractions of Kelly’s former vocation.
Kelly was ultimately present in person when Burlington’s city manager Craig Honeycutt shared the news of her impending return during a city council work session on Monday. A relative newcomer to Burlington’s staff, with prior experience as Alamance and Wayne County’s manager, Honeycutt had initially been tapped for Kelly’s old job before he was elevated to the city manager’s position over the summer.
Yet, with few other exceptions, the coworkers who welcomed Kelly back to the fold on Monday were largely the same ones who had bid her farewell just over year ago. The city council was, likewise, a gallery of familiar faces – with perhaps the biggest change being the new, more prominent role of long-time councilmember Jim Butler, who had wrested the gavel away from then-mayor Ian Baltutis in last November’s election shortly after Kelly’s departure.
But for all the continuity in personnel, Kelly was under no illusion that she’ll be able to pick up where she had left off when she reclaims the assistant manager’s post.
For starters, the responsibilities of Kelly’s former position have been broadened to include human resources, in addition to her traditional areas of oversight, such as recreation, IT, and animal services. The once-and-future city staff member will also be expected to shepherd several brand new initiatives – including two that dominated the council’s discussion during Monday night’s work session.
Among the topics that evening was a new multi-million-dollar entertainment venue that the council has agreed to develop at the city’s athletic stadium. Also on the agenda was a proposed package of “creative” benefits intended to ease turnover among city staff members – along with some $2.1 million in pay raises and other perks aimed specifically at the city’s police force.
In the end, Kelly was the first to acknowledge that she’ll have some catching up to do when she returns to city hall later this month.
“I think there are some great developments going on,” she told The Alamance News after the work session ended, “and I look forward to learning a lot more about them.”