Mitchell stepping away as Dover city manager

Donna Mitchell completes her tenure Friday as Dover’s city manager. She said she and her husband plan to travel all over the United States for several months before returning to their home in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — As Dover’s city manager the last two-and-a-half years, Donna Mitchell has been behind the wheel with a steady hand and a calming voice when it comes to making key decisions.

So fittingly, Mrs. Mitchell will be getting out of the driver’s seat Friday as she concludes her service with the capital city and climbs into a recreational vehicle alongside her husband, where they plan on seeing as much as they possibly can throughout the United States.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Mrs. Mitchell said of her impending retirement, which is officially June 1, 2021. “It’s exciting to take on the next journey of my life, but then at the same time, it’s hard to leave, being I have such close ties to the city.

“We plan on traveling. My husband and I are RVers, so we’re going to take our camper and our truck and see this great country and all the monuments and national parks and everything we can see.”

And, naturally, she has a good portion of the trip planned out already.

“So I’ve got some of it planned out. It will take us through half of next year, at least for what I’ve got planned now,” she said. “We’ve got plans to go to the south during the winter and Florida, Alabama and Texas, and then, we’re going to head up to Nevada to Las Vegas. From there, we’re going to go to Page, Arizona, to see Antelope Canyon. We’ve also got plans in the summer to go to see the Grand Tetons in Yellowstone.”

Mrs. Mitchell began her career with Dover in July 1978 in the city’s Finance Department, serving as an accountant, payroll specialist and financial reporting manager until July 1989, when she left city employment. She returned to the city of Dover as the finance director/controller/treasurer on Oct. 16, 2000, and was appointed to the position of city manager Dec. 11, 2017.

Mrs. Mitchell said that out of all the challenges that have faced her and city staff in her tenure as city manager, this year has definitely been the most difficult.

“I would say that what I am the most proud of is the way our staff has handled several of the challenges this year, with COVID and the tornado this past year (that struck Dover on Aug. 4),” she said. “And it’s not just proud of my accomplishments — it’s proud of our Dover team, our employees.”

She said that following a closure due to COVID-19 restrictions, city staff returned to their offices at the end of May. That, she said, was very important for the city.

“I think we’ve done fairly good (with reopening during the pandemic) because we needed to serve our customers,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “You can’t pay bills if you’re not collecting the bills. We need to make sure we can serve our customers because, at one point, we were $8 million down in cash flow, and we’ve come up, and we’re working on those numbers to get the new numbers now — but we’ve managed to work our way through it.”

Dover City Council voted to pass Council Resolution No. 2020-13 during its virtual meeting Monday night, which praised Mrs. Mitchell’s service. The resolution for her job performance became a part of the permanent records of the city as a lasting symbol of appreciation and gratitude.

Several City Council members took the time to say thanks to the outgoing city manager. Council is currently in the process of interviewing candidates to eventually replace Mrs. Mitchell.

“Thank you for your service to the city and the excellence that you brought,” City Councilman David Anderson said to Mrs. Mitchell. “The city is so much better for you having been here. In a city that used to have a balance in the thousands, now that thousands is in the millions. Our bond ratings have increased. The taxpayers have a much better position when it comes to unfunded liabilities. … We’re no longer millions of dollars-plus behind the curve, and we’ve actually started on a progress that’s ahead of most places that I know of, and that’s securing the future of our retirees.

“The work that you’ve done has just been incredible, and it’s the passion that you brought in caring for our citizens, whether it’s an individual and making a simple phone call or something simple like a road sign or something of that nature, all the way up to bond issues and multimillion-dollar transactions,” he added. “You take care of each person the same way, and I just appreciate you and appreciate being able to call you a friend. You’ll be missed.”

Matt Harline, assistant city manager for Dover, got an up-close-and-personal look at how the city manager took care of business. He said he was impressed.

“(Mrs. Mitchell) had to deal with some boring things in government that you don’t necessarily see, like the roads, the sewer lines and saving the pension plan,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of comments about her work ethic, which is epic, and the next person who follows her will have tremendous shoes to fill.

“What you may not see every day is how much heart and warmth Donna brings to the job. She honestly cares about every one of our employees, and I’ve seen her get kind of choked up over some of the employees when they face personal issues. Donna Mitchell is one of my mentors in this profession, and it was an honor to work with (her).”

The tributes kept coming.

“I’d like to thank Mrs. Mitchell for her service to the city,” Councilman Tim Slavin said. “I’ll keep it simple when I say that I believe you are a true public servant and a true servant for others, as well, and I will always consider it a highlight of my career that I could count you as a colleague and work side by side. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

Councilman Ralph Taylor Jr. said to Mrs. Mitchell: “Thank you so much for modeling excellence on a daily basis. Your balanced approach to everything … it was soothing at times watching you handle some of the opportunities. They weren’t problems to you; they were opportunities. There is so much life after the city of Dover. Go and enjoy it — a job very well-done.”

Mrs. Mitchell, with a tissue in her hands, was quick to return the praise.

“I just want to thank you all for the opportunity to serve the citizens of the city of Dover,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful ride, and I really appreciate all the support you have given me over the years.”